The Dental Assistant
Dental assistants perform a variety of patient care, office, and laboratory duties. But they are not licensed to perform the extended tasks that dental hygienists can perform.
About one-third of all dental assistants in US work part-time, sometimes working for more than one dental practice. Some dental assistants become office managers, dental-assisting instructors, or dental product sales representatives.
Duties of a Dental Assistant
Dental assistants work chairside as dentists examine and treat patients. Their duties include:
- make patients as comfortable as possible in the dental chair, prepare them for treatment, and obtain dental records
- hand instruments and materials to dentists, and keep patients' mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices
- sterilize and disinfect instruments and equipment, prepare tray setups for dental procedures
- instruct patients on postoperative and general oral health care
- expose radiographs, and process dental x-ray film as directed by a dentist
Office administrative duties of a dental assistant include:
- schedule and confirm appointments
- receive patients
- keep treatment records
- send bills and receive payments
- order supplies and materials
Dental assistants should not be confused with dental hygienists, who are licensed to perform different clinical tasks. The two jobs differ in the type of day-to-day tasks but also in the level of education and licensing required.