A career in the dental industry can be exciting. There are a variety of opportunities depending on your skills, experience, and education. In fact, the Dental Assistant profession is expected to grow much faster than average through 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And as the population gets older, there should be even more demand for preventative dental services.1 Working as a Dental Assistant can be a very fulfilling job but it is important to know that it is not the same as being a dental hygienist.
Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist
Many people often confuse Dental Assistants for dental hygienists, but there are some big differences between the two positions.
One of the main differences is how closely you work with a dentist in each position. As an assistant, you would work beside a dentist, helping them in several ways, including administrative tasks and patient care. Some of the most common tasks you’d perform on the job might include:
- Schedule appointments for patients
- Maintain patient records
- Sterilize dental tools
- Send bills
- Receive payments
- Take inventory
- Order supplies
- Assist dentist with procedures
In comparison, a dental hygienist does not work as closely with a dentist. They perform tasks like polishing teeth, removing tartar or plaque and developing x-rays. Unlike the Dental Assistant, a hygienist works more one-on-one with patients.
Dental Assisting Certifications and Licenses
While it can take several years to become a dental hygienist, programs that train you to be a Dental Assistant tend to be shorter. This makes Dental Assisting a good career path if you want to enter the workforce more quickly.
The registration and licensing requirements for Dental Assisting differ from state to state although most states will require training or certification in radiation health and safety. Some states require you to take a dental assisting licensing exam so it is important to check the regulations where you live. For example, in Connecticut, you’ll be required to pass the Dental Assisting National Board infection control exam.2
Benefits of Dental Assisting
As a career choice, dental assisting can be ideal if you want a challenge and enjoy working with others. Some of the benefits of this career include:
Dental Assistants Have a Good Work-Life Balance
Unlike factory work and food service that may require long shifts, if you work as a Dental Assistant, you’ll have a more routine work schedule. If your practice is open on weekends, you may be required to work weekends, but you’ll probably have a set schedule so you can plan work and life activities.
Dental Assisting Is a Growth Industry
The dental assisting career outlook is favorable. There are nearly 200,000 dentists in the U.S.3 –and they can use the help of well-trained and qualified Dental Assistants. There are even more Dental Assistants and demand for the profession is expected to grow.3
Challenges of a Dental Assisting Career
As with most careers, Dental Assisting may not be for everyone. You’ll need lots of energy to work in a busy office. You’ll need some soft skills for your Dental Assistant career, too. You should have good communication skills because you’ll interact with a lot of people every day, from the dentist you assist to other office staff and patients. You’ll also need passion for oral health—and people! This is people-helping profession.
Interested in a career helping others? Consider the Dental Assisting Training program at Porter and Chester Institute. You could complete our hands-on program in as little as nine months.