More people than ever these days are recognizing the link between oral and overall health. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for dental assistants will grow by more than 25 percent by the year 2022 because of this trend. Before considering this career, it’s important to know what some typical dental assistant duties are in order to determine if this job is right for you. Dental assistants perform a variety of functions throughout the clinic, which may vary on a daily basis.
When not directly involved in patient care, dental assistants may assist with certain administrative tasks such as:
- Scheduling and confirming appointments
- Pulling patient charts
- Verifying insurance information
- Invoicing and billing
- Bookkeeping and payroll functions
- Maintaining petty cash drawer
Dental assistants are often the first person a patient sees when he or she enters a clinic, and may also be the last person seen before leaving. Dental assistants often escort patients to the exam room and help them feel comfortable before being seen by a dentist or hygienist. As such, they play a very important role in ensuring those with dental phobias can comfortably receive treatment.
Behind the Scenes
Dental assistants also work behind the scenes to help ensure the dentist or hygienist is able to provide treatment. Some of the things dental assistants may do to ensure patient care include:
- Sterilizing instruments
- Ordering and restocking supplies
- Preparing exam rooms
- Calling in prescriptions to a pharmacy
- Updating medical charts
Direct Patient Care
Dental assistants are best known for providing assistance to the dentist during surgical procedures. They help comfort patients in addition to using vacuums or suctioning devices to help keep the mouth dry. Dental assistants also help patients rinse their mouths by providing water sprays where needed. During especially complex procedures, the assistant may also be responsible for handing instruments to the dentist or placing gauze bandages inside the mouths of patients.
There may be times when dental assistants provide care on their own. Some examples include:
- Taking molds of the teeth to help with the creation of dental appliances
- Taking dental x-rays
- Educating patients on proper brushing and flossing techniques
- Providing pre and post-operative instructions to patients
Although there are times when dental assistants provide direct patient care, they are not doctors and may therefore not diagnose any condition. They are typically prohibited from administering or prescribing medication as well.
Different than Dental Hygienists
Dental assistants are often confused with dental hygienists; however, they are actually very different. Dental hygienists are licensed professionals who have received extensive training in performing dental cleanings. Dental assistants on the other hand have not received this training, and are therefore prohibited from performing cleanings. They may however sterilize the instruments and prepare the equipment used in dental cleanings. The work of both dental assistants and dental hygienists must be carefully supervised by a licensed dentist.
Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant
Many people believe dental assistants are simply medical assistants who work in a dental office. While there are some similarities between the two occupations, dental assistants have a different set of skills, and must be familiar with dental procedures and equipment. They are also more likely to be directly involved in patient care, since most of the procedures performed by a dentist will require an assistant.
The fact that dental assistants perform very different functions than medical assistants is important when choosing a training program. If you’re interested in a career as a dental assistant and need help finding the right training program, contact us. We can help you choose a program in your area that will help you meet your specific career goals.