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The Dental Assistant's role in a dental office
dental assistants

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.

  Next page -> How to become a Dental Assistant - Dental Assistant School requirements

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