The world of dentistry needs you to keep the process moving and the patients happy. Dental assistants are in demand, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In a field with 31 percent expected job growth between 2010 and 2020, the opportunities for employment are abundant. You can further expand your options by exploring the field of teeth straightening. Orthodontists also use the services of dental assistants, creating even more opportunity for you to have a rewarding career.
Assisting the Dentist
As the dental assistant, you manage the daily operations of the dental office. You answer the telephone and schedule appointments for new and returning patients. You also accompany patients from the waiting area into the examination room and prepare them for the dentist's arrival. Bring your compassion to work because you will be working with nervous patients and rambunctious children. Once the doctor begins working, you will hand her instruments during the examination. You will also be using the suction hose to keep the patient's mouth dry. When the procedure is complete, you will schedule follow-up appointments.
Assisting the Orthodontist
In the orthodontist's office, you assist patients who need braces for various irregularities in their teeth. You work in the front office, answering calls and making appointments. You need your customer service skills to greet patients and guide them into the examination area. You assist the orthodontist by sterilizing the dental instruments. You also may tighten the wires and replace the rubber bands on your patient's braces. You will get to know your patients very well. They generally keep their braces on for two years and they will come into the office regularly throughout that time.
Two Similar Careers
The similarities between orthodontic and dental assistants are numerous. Both careers work with dental professionals to promote healthy teeth. They both require basic education in general dentistry through an American Dental Association accredited program. In both positions, you will be engaging in customer service and handling various medical office duties.
What's the Difference
One difference between dental and orthodontic assistants is the office in which they work. Dental assistants are employed in general dentistry offices, where you promote and maintain the health of the teeth, while orthodontic assistants work in an office to straighten the teeth. In the orthodontic office, you also see your patients more often. Patients see the general dentist every six months for wellness exams, unless there are serious dental problems. Orthodontic patients are seen regularly, every six to eight weeks. Some states require additional testing and certification before you are allowed to work in an orthodontics office. Check the requirements in your state for clarification.
Making Your Decision
These two careers are very similar, so consider your personal preferences. If you have a specific interest in teeth straightening and braces, orthodontic dentistry may be your preference. However, if you aren't willing to obtain additional education, a dental assistant career is best suited for you. Salary won't be the deciding factor. The BLS makes no distinction between dental and orthodontic assistants. The average salary for both is listed at $33,470 per year.
2016 Salary Information for Dental Assistants
Dental assistants earned a median annual salary of $36,940 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, dental assistants earned a 25th percentile salary of $30,410, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $45,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 332,000 people were employed in the U.S. as dental assistants.
Erika Winston is a Washington, D.C.-based writer, with more than 15 years of writing experience. Her articles have appeared in such magazines as Imara, Corporate Colors E-zine and Enterprise Virginia. She holds a Juris Doctor degree from Regent University and a Masters in public policy from New England College.