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Dental Assistant

Career Overview

Dental assistants work in an overall supportive clinical role in a dentist's office. They sterilize and lay out dental equipment, preparatory to the dentist's examination or treatment of a patient. During procedures dental assistants work with the dentist by handing over tools, providing suction, and preparing sutures, packing and dressing for the dentist's use.

Dental assistants take X-rays and develop them. They prepare material for molds, apply topical anesthetics and sometimes will remove sutures, prepare crowns and removable appliances. Some handle office duties as well.


High school courses in biology and chemistry are recommended. Beyond that, the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation had approved 269 dental-assisting training programs as of 2006. Undoubtedly there are more today.

Some programs take one year and lead to a diploma or certificate. Others are two year programs that culminate in an associates degree. Field training is a feature of many programs.

Most states regulate the tasks dental assistants are allowed to perform. Some require licensure, which may require successful conclusion of an examination. Some states allow registration as a dental assistant with very few educational requirements.

Current Employment

About 300,000 dental assistants are currently working in the United States. About one third of all dental assistants work part time, some holding jobs in more than one dental office.

Job Outlook

Job opportunities for dental assistants are projected to grow at a pace far faster than overall job growth in the near future. Increased longevity of natural teeth has led to more dental visits, as have more elaborate dental education programs.

Salary Range

Lowest 10%  $10.36  $21,550
Median Salary  $15.17  $31,550
Highest 10%  $21.60  $44,930

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