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Dental Assistants: Career, Salary and Education Information
Career Profile: What do Dental Assistants do?
From the moment a patient walks through the door, dental assistants are there to help--helping patients fill out forms, preparing them for treatment, and sometimes taking and processing dental x-rays. When the dentist is working on the patient, assistants are often standing by, providing tools and materials or keeping patients' mouths clear with suction devices.
Dental assistants must have a familiarity with both clinical technology and office-specific technology like scheduling programs and medical forms. Depending on the office and preferences of the dentist, assistants can also play a larger clinical or administrative role.
A Day in the Life of a Dental Assistant
On any given day, dental assistants can be found in the lab, office area, or treatment area. Assistants are trusted with patient information and medical records, and are often responsible for making patients feel comfortable and welcome from the waiting room to the treatment area. After treatment is complete, a dental assistant can return to administer fluoride and instruct the patient on proper postoperative and general oral health care.
About half of all dental assistants work a 35 to 40-hour week. The remainder have variable schedules, sometimes working Saturdays or evenings. Some dental assistants work at multiple dental offices and travel between them on a daily or weekly basis.
Dental Assistant Training and Education
While many dental assistants learn their skills through on-the-job training, vocational and technical colleges offer formal dental assistant training programs. Courses typically take less than a year and lead to a certificate or diploma, which graduates can use to improve their chances in the job search. Two-year associate's degree programs may be recommended for dental assistants who hope to continue their clinical training later on. Some states require that dental assistants be licensed before operating radiological equipment or interacting with patients on a clinical level.
Dental assistants who aspire to become dental hygienists may be able to find help with their education costs. The American Dental Association reports that 87 percent of dentists offer reimbursement for their employees who take continuing education classes.
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Dental Assistant Employment & Outlook
Over 283,000 dental assistants were employed nationwide in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment is expected to increase 29 percent through 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations. About 82,000 jobs in total are expected to be added to the dental assistant workforce.
Typical Salary for Dental Assistants In 2007, dental assistants earned mean annual salaries of $32,280, the BLS reports. Hourly wages were $15.52, although assistants working in specialty hospitals earned slightly higher wages, at $16.57. Alaska and the District of Columbia were the highest paying areas for dental assistants, with annual earnings of $40,450 and $40,190, respectively.
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