Dental assistants work under the supervision of dentists and are responsible for a wide range of tasks in the dental office, ranging from patient care to administrative duties to laboratory functions. The dental assistant position is the most flexible and varied in the dental office and requires a diverse set of skills: clinical, clerical, interpersonal, technological and more. (See: dental assistant training)
Regulations vary from state to state as to what duties a dental assistant is allowed to perform, but they may include the following:
- Sterilizing dental instruments and equipment for each patient
- Organizing and laying out instruments for dentist’s use
- Handing instruments and other materials to dentist during procedures
- Taking x-rays of patients’ teeth
- Taking impressions of patients’ teeth for casts
- Using suction and swabs to keep patients’ mouths clear and dry during procedures
- Applying topical anesthetic to patients’ mouths
- Removing stitches
- Make temporary crowns
- Obtaining patients’ dental records
- Questioning patients about their medical history and recording the information for dentist’s reference
- Advising patients on dental care
- Making patients feel comfortable before, during and after dental treatment
- Scheduling appointments, maintaining records, sending bills, answering phones, ordering supplies and other office tasks
Dental Assistant Working Conditions
Dental assistants work in a well-lighted setting that, due to its medical nature, must be extremely clean. Dental assistants must wear gloves, masks, eyewear, and protective clothing to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases.
Assistants also familiarize themselves with safety procedures to minimize the risks associated with equipment such as x-ray machines. Since dentistry is a people-oriented industry, good interpersonal skills are highly valued.
Dental assistants typically work full time, but many work part-time or have flexible schedules. Assistants may also have to work on Saturdays or evenings, depending on the hours that the dentist keeps.