Careers in dental assistance something to smile about

Oral exam
© Sylwia Kucharska |

If you’re like most people and hate going to the dentist, you’re probably going to appreciate anyone who makes the process as smooth and fast as possible. In fact, dentistry – and teeth for that matter – just wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for the magical touch of one person: the dental assistant.

Becoming a dental assistant is a career you may not have considered, but it’s a great option for a whole host of reasons – especially for those who have recently finished school and are seeking a stable career with a good income and good working conditions, and who enjoy working with people. 

Here are some reasons why a career in the dental industry could bring a smile to your face, as well as the faces of others.

What dental assistants do

Dental assistants perform a whole range of tasks, balancing clinical and administrative roles to ensure dental procedures are conducted in a smooth and efficient manner. This allows the dentist to focus all their attention on the matter at hand – you and your teeth.

On the administrative side of things, a dental assistant books and follows up appointments, controls the invoicing, receipting and stocktaking of dental supplies, creates and maintains patient dental records, processes payments and attends to patient enquiries.

In addition to the administrative stuff, they’re also responsible for welcoming patients, getting them settled, and putting them at ease if they’re a bit reluctant, a tad nervous, or completely terrified of what’s about to happen in their own mouth. In this way, dental assistants are adept at making sure you don’t freak out, so your teeth can get the treatment they need with as little fuss as possible.

On top of this, they’re also in charge of various clinical procedures, such as sterilising instruments, preparing syringes for local anaesthesia, passing instruments during a procedure, holding a suction device, creating dental radiographs (X-rays) and handling radiography equipment, constructing provisional or temporary crowns, performing first aid and safely disposing of surgery waste.

These health professionals are also involved in educating patients on various aspects of oral care, and sometimes crafting oral health programs for clients.

What attributes do you need to become a dental assistant?

First and foremost, you need to be a good communicator with a positive attitude. You need to be able to empathise with people, and to communicate with people of all ages and backgrounds. For this you need a caring approach.

You also need to be able to multitask, capable of handling both clinical and administrative sides of the business simultaneously. Being computer literate is also a big help.

What qualifications do you need to get in?

For starters, you’ll at least need a Year 10 school certificate.

People sometimes become dental assistants without formal qualifications, but professional training definitely helps. While formal training has not been considered a necessity in the past, more and more dental practices now require their dental assistants to be accredited, calling for a Certificate III in Dental Assisting as a minimum.

That said, you can also do it the other way around – finding a position as a dental assistant first, and then complementing your practical experience with theoretical studies. In this way, you learn the theory while getting the experience you need.

The course will take up to 12 months to complete, at the end of which you’ll have a thorough understanding of everything involved in dental assistance, a professional qualification – and a higher rate of pay. This scenario is ideal for recent school leavers, who can continue studying but can work and get paid at the same time.

On top of the Certificate III, you have the option to extend your studies by completing a Certificate IV in Dental Assisting. In doing this, you can elect to become more specialised in one of two areas: radiographic imaging or oral health promotion. Whichever way you go, this higher qualification will make you more attractive to employers, and will see that you’re paid a bit more for your work.

Five good reasons to become a dental assistant

1. There are hundreds of jobs on offer right now. At the time of writing, there are over 200 dental assisting jobs on alone.

2. As we’ve explored above, it’s not hard to become a dental assistant and the time investment is minimal.

3. Dental assisting is a growing industry that offers good stable work. Most dental assisting positions offer decent pay with good working conditions, and most dental assistants report high job satisfaction. It’s also pretty much recession-proof – regardless of how the economy is going, people still need dental procedures.

4. You will learn skills you can take anywhere. Given the rising demand for dental services the world over, becoming a dental assistant will ensure that your skills will be valued wherever you go.

5. You can take it further. Dental assistance can be a stepping stone to practice management, or further study in dental hygiene or dental therapy.

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