Dental Assistant: Is it a Good Career Choice for You?

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment for dental assistants is expected to grow 36% between 2008 and 2018, which is a much faster growth rate than the average for all occupations. Salaries for dental assistants can range from $22,270 to $46, 150. So what is it like to work as a dental assistant? I recently interviewed Ana Herrera, a 20 year veteran of the profession who currently works in a dental practice in Manhattan to find out.



  • What do dental assistants do? Dental assistants assist dentists during patient procedures and treatments. They take x-rays, sterilize instruments, set up the rooms for treatment, and stock the rooms with dental supplies. They also maintain dental equipment, order supplies, collect payment, and answer phones.

  • What training is necessary to become a dental assistant? Most dental assistant programs range from nine to 12 months in duration and training usually includes general chair side assisting, radiation health and safety, and infection control training. Once training has been completed, students must take the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) exam in order to become a Certified Dental Assistant. It is a four-hour test with 320 questions.

  • Where can a dental assistant work? Dental assistants can work for a general dentist or a specialist such as an endodontist (root canal specialist), oral surgeon, implantologist, pedodontist (children's specialist), or an orthodontist. They may have the option of working in a hospital dental facility or a clinic. The military offers dental assistant positions as well.

  • What is the most challenging part of being a dental assistant? In my opinion, dealing with patients who have had a traumatic past experience in a dental office can be a challenging, yet rewarding experience. I strive to make the patient's experience a pleasant one. You want them to feel at ease and be comfortable enough to return to your office or any other dental office.

  • What is the most rewarding part of your job? The most rewarding part of the job is knowing a patient has walked out of the office satisfied with the services. It feels great to hear the patient say "Your assistant was really gentle when taking my x-rays" or "Your assistant was helpful; you made me feel very comfortable." These comments remind me of why I became a dental assistant to begin with.

  • Are there scheduling options other than full-time for dental assistants? Yes. Dental assistants can work part-time and have flexible hours depending on the facility they choose to work in. Hospitals and large staffed offices would be more likely to offer these options than small private offices.

  • What type of person is a good fit for a career as a dental assistant. Dental assisting is a field open to both men and women. It is a good choice for someone who likes to help people, is a team player, and a multi-tasker. This career is not for you if prefer to sit all day as opposed to moving around all day. Since dental assistants assist dentists in minor surgical procedures including extractions, gum work, and implant surgery, it is important to have a strong stomach.

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JasonKnighte

I think that I could be a pretty good dental assistant. I know that it takes a lot of effort and hard work that I have not put into it, but I think that it would be worth it. I have a few friends that are going into the medical field and I think that one of them is interning at a dental office.

Jason|http://www.dentistryonwilson.com/cosmetic_dentistry.html

March 22 2014 at 12:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Zippy Doodah

It's frustrating, when looking for information about career choices and getting a "Bunch of Complainers" belly aching about there job. It seems as though so many with over 10 years of experience complain they were never paid enough. I bet, nobody held a gun to your head and told you that you couldn't furthering your education to get ahead? I see many Dental businesses that offer Tuition assistance. Continuing on to become a DH seems to be the natural progression. It seems like so many Complain about the low pay of a DA but say that being a DH is so much better. Your complacency and un-ambition is not the fault of the Boss! btw, Martin, what would be so difficult about keeping your work place clean? If your so worried about that, maybe you can offer to pay the Doctor's rent, so he can afford to hire you a personal assistant. Seriously, how bad can it be keep a rest room clean in a medical office? It's not a Truck Stop!

February 11 2014 at 3:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Martin

I have done some research that a DA may be required to clean toilets at the office or clinic as well as other cleaning duties to maintain the office stays clean. I also heard that there may be no benefits offered to a dental assistant, is this info true? I'm a 32 year old male who is looking to change careers (8 years in the hospitality business) I did just about everything at the Hotel that I worked for, so I'm always willing to learn something new. Being a male will it be more difficult to land a job as an DA? Its something I would like to do but with all the negative comments I'm not sure.

August 04 2013 at 5:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ymailmartin

I heard that DA's may have to clean toilets and keep the office or clinic generally clean,(cleaning windows and vacuuming ).I also did some research that in a lot of cases there are no benefits. Is this information true? I'm a 32 year old male who has worked the last 9 years in the hospitality business, and I'm looking for a career change. Will it be difficult to look for a Dental Assistant job cause I'm a male? Its something I would like to do but with a lot negative information I'm not sure. Can anyone fill me in on this information. Thank you.

August 04 2013 at 4:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Audre

i'm starting school to be a dental assistant May 1,2011 and i am VERY excited!! after about a year or so i am going to go back to school to be a hygienist...

besides crappy bosses..can anybody tell me how they actually feel about the position and what they really like about it and dont like about it..again..BESIDES THE CRAPPY BOSSES!!

thank you!

April 18 2011 at 9:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RMR

I AM A FORMER DENTAL ASSISTANT. I DID IT FOR 17 YEARS. I FELL INTO THIS FEILD BY ACCIDENT AND LOVED IT. UNFORTUNATELY IT TOOK ITS TOLL ON MY BACK CAUSING ME TO HAVE SEVERAL SPINAL SURGERIES.

IF U R THINKING ABOUT GETTING INTO IT, U WILL WEAR DOWN. IT IS FAST PACED, DEMANDING, PHYSICAL AND LONG HARD HOURS FOR DRS THAT WILL NEVER VALUE UR WORTH.. PRIVATE PRACTICES USUALLY PAY AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE, NO HEALTH INSURANCE AND U WIND UP WITH LITTLE OR NO RAISES. AND COVERING EVERYONE ELSES BUTT.

THINK OF THIS, MOST PROCEDURES ARE 45 MINUTES TO SEVERAL HOURS.SO U STAND THERE DOING A CROWN PREP , U KNOW THE COST, AT LEAST $2000.00 PER, WHICH OUT OF THAT BACK BREAKING 1-2 HOUR PROCEDURE, U WILL MAKE MAYBE $17.00 , IF U R LUCKY TO MAKE THAT MUCH.
IF UR DESPERATE FOR WORK AND FIND NOTHING ELSE , GO FOR IT. IF UR NOT, DON'T. THE DOCTORS WILL GET THE BEST OF U FOR THE LEAST AND U WILL HAVE NOTHING BUT AN ACHING BACK TO SHOW FOR IT.
IF THE PATIENTS NEW HOW LITTLE THE LAB CHARGES THE DENTIST FOR A CROWN THEY MAKE AS COMPARED TO WHAT THEY R CHARGED , COSMETIC DENTISTRY WOULD GO BELLY UP.
IT IS INSANE BUT THEN WHO ELSE IS GOING TO PAY FOR EXPENSIVE CLUB MEMBERSHIPS ?

June 19 2010 at 8:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
cl

I also spent many years working in Dental Offices. Frankly, your over paid. Teachers have to go to school and get a degree then credentialing. Dental assistance go to (easy) school for eight months. And they get comprable pay. Dentists go to school, what 7-8 year's assume all the finacial risk. The hardest job in the dental office is the back biting that goes on between the girls.

April 21 2010 at 7:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cl's comment
Lois Dean

Worked in ine office for 14 years first as an assistant then office manager for 8yrs. Low paid, no insurance dead end job. I was hired by the Veterans Adm. dental clinic starting salary more than I was making in my previouc job after 14 yrs. Went back to school became an Expanded Function Dental Assistant (in Ohio)more money. Worked at the VA. for over 29 yrs. I would recommend the VA. dental clinic over private practice for a better salary, insurance and retirement.

April 22 2010 at 9:51 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tisa

I have been a dental assistant for almost 30 years. It is a very stressful job at times and the dentist can be very demanding, but for the most part it is a fun job. The pay is not as great as I think that it should be considering the money the dentist brings in, but he/she went to school much longer than I did. I love crown and bridge, anything I can do by myself. Root canals are my least favorite. If I was to do it over I would go into hygiene because the pay is much better and they get to work on the patients themselve. It can be very rewarding though and I do for the most part enjoy it.

April 21 2010 at 5:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Tisa's comment
Rebecca

What do you think of becoming a DA to save up money for hygenist school. In this economy I do need to work and pay off debt before applying for a 8,000 a year college tuition plus living expenses 9-6 program for 2 years ( i have a AS and i need 13 classes to finish the prerequests which is going to take a few years to complete anyway)
I just finished my medical coding but the truth is there are only 2 company that will hire you straight after completeing your CCS or CPC plus i need a job with a lot of walk around which coding is 8 hours infront of a computer

April 21 2010 at 5:47 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mjh

Not only did the dentist go to school longer but whose taking the financial risk in running the practice? If the production goes down, who takes a pay cut? Not the assistant but the dentist.

April 21 2010 at 5:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
MG

ITIS A VERY HARD JOB!!!!!!! ON DR. MADE ME WEAR (OR ALL OF US D.S.'S) A READ OUT OF HOW MANY MILES (IF ANY HE SAID)WE CLOCKED.. IN A 10 HR. DAY I DID 8 MILES PER DAY!!!!!!!!! AND DON'T THINK WE GET A FULL LINCH HOUR EITHER..MAYBE 15 MINUTE BREAK..AND NO RAISE WAS ADDED TO MY 8 MILE DAYS.??NO. THE BEST OFFICE IS A ONE -TWO DR. OFFICE FAMILY DISIGNED..TO MANY OFFICES ARE FULL OF 4-6 DR'S. THAT IS NOT GOOD TIME FOR PAIENTS..THEY NEED MY TIME THE MOST..I LOVE MY PAIENTS..AND THEY LOVE ME. I GET GIFTS ETC. I AM A GOOD DA..

April 21 2010 at 4:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to MG's comment
Audre

please learn to spell..and also..ur post is leaving me confused..we are not interested in how crappy your boss treats you..we are discussing the job itself..thank you...

April 18 2011 at 9:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dr. R

Looking for a dental assistant...near Swampscott,MA

on the Northshore....of Boston..

email me...

molars1@aol.com

April 21 2010 at 2:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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