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Dental Assistant Career Guide

Everything to Know About Dental Assistant Careers

Has dentistry and oral health always interested you? Perhaps you’ve thought about becoming a dentist but decided it wouldn’t be the right fit, even though you’d like to work in the dental care field. In that case, it’s worth considering a dental assistant career.

There are many dental assistant jobs because these professionals are needed all over the country. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has projected that employment in this area will grow 7% from 2019-2029. So, this is a good option if you want to enter a field with plenty of opportunities.

To help you decide if this path is right for you, here’s some information on dental assistant careers.


As a dental assistant, you’ll complete a variety of tasks while supporting a dentist and their patients. This means you’ll make a difference by helping people feel at ease when they’re in the dentist’s chair.

This job requires that you have good communication skills because you’ll be interacting with patients, in addition to helping fellow staff and working under the direction of a dentist. But you’ll also need to know how to assist the dentist during various procedures, such as fillings or extractions. In other words, you’ll do more than just complete administrative tasks.

Note: You can apply your dental assistant skills in a range of settings. For instance, if you want to work with children, you could pursue employment in a pediatric dentist’s office. Or, you might decide that you want to work with an orthodontist, oral surgeon, or periodontist, as a few other examples. So many possibilities!

Dental assistant role in dentist office

This isn’t a monotonous job, as you’ll need to apply both technical and administrative skills to succeed.

Here’s a short list of some of the many dental assistant duties:

  • Supporting patients during check-in, and logging important information for the dentist.
  • Helping patients when they’re checking out at the end of their appointment, such as by giving them instructions on how to take care of their mouth after a procedure.
  • Instructing patients on how they can care for their mouth daily, such as with proper brushing and flossing techniques.
  • Assisting with certain procedures, cleanings, X-rays, dental impressions, and more.
  • Cleaning, sterilizing, and preparing equipment.
  • Performing lab and office duties, such as ordering supplies, billing, and scheduling appointments.

Dental assistant vs. dental hygienist

A dental assistant is different from a dental hygienist.

While an assistant performs the myriad tasks discussed above, a hygienist acts more independently, and receives a different level of training that allows them to work directly with patients.

Here are some of the things that dental hygienists do:

  • Clean teeth to remove plaque, tartar, deposits, and stains
  • Examine teeth and gums
  • Take X-rays
  • Apply sealants and fluoride treatments
  • Educate patients on oral hygiene

How much do dental assistants make?

There are various factors that will determine how much you can earn as a dental assistant. For instance, your location, your level of education and experience, your certifications, and your employer may all play a role in your salary.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary of a dental assistant in 2020 was $41,180 annually or $19.80 per hour.

Generally, however, a dental assistant salary might be anywhere from around $7 to $33 per hour, or roughly $36,000 per year, on average.

Dental assistant education & certification requirements

Your state might have specific requirements (such as completing an accredited program or getting a certification) that you’d need to fulfill before being able to work as a dental assistant. Or, you might live in an area where you can receive training after you’re hired. So, it’s best to do some research to determine if there are certain steps you’ll need to take based on where you’d like to work.

No matter where you’re located, it’s a good idea to receive the right education. Doing so can help prove you have the skills to excel as a dental assistant.


First, you’ll need to get your high school diploma. Then, you can enroll in a dental assistant program to get an associate’s degree, diploma, or certificate. These programs, which might take less than a year to complete, may be offered at dental schools, technical and vocational schools, community colleges, and universities.


While in school, expect to take a variety of courses on topics that will give you the knowledge you need to work in the dental field.

In addition to coursework, you might have the opportunity to complete a practicum, during which you can gain valuable experience in the real world before you graduate.


As far as certifications go, there are several options for dental assistants who wish to differentiate themselves from other job seekers or who want to earn credentials that might help them command a higher salary.

Some dental assistant positions require certification. But even if a certification isn’t needed to get a job, it may be wise to pursue one, especially if it’ll help you get hired more easily.

Here’s a list of some dental assistant certifications:

  • Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)
  • National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA)
  • Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)
  • Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)

Ready to begin?

If becoming a dental assistant is what you want, IBMC is here to help you get on the road to fulfilling your dream.

Our dental assistant programs can give you the skills to land an amazing job and perform at your best. Contact us today to learn more.

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