It takes more than one dentist to keep a dental office humming. Hygienists, receptionists, office managers and dental assistants are also there to help patients take care of their pearly whites. Of these professionals, the dental assistant works closest to the dentist.
Dental assistants work in a medical office setting usually populated with soft lighting and mood music to calm sometime-jittery patients. They move around with the dentist from patient to patient, and handle other tasks in the reception area. Smaller practices may have individual patient rooms, while others may feature dividers between the patient areas. As with many healthcare jobs, dental assisting is not for the squeamish. Assistants must be comfortable dealing with saliva and blood.
A dental assistant spends most of the day on her feet. Assistants prepare the patient area by laying out the supplies for the dentist. They also sterilize instruments in between procedures. While dentists may get the option of sliding around on a stool, dental assistants usually stand by ready to assist with suction, water or the occasional patient face wipe. When they are not assisting the dentist, they are walking patients into the X-ray room or guiding patients to waiting chairs. In addition to assisting, dental assistants in some states apply fluoride and sealants, and polish teeth.
On a typical day, dental assistants spend time calming crying youngsters and easing the stress of nervous adults. Some patients may not fully understand what they are being told to do, so the assistant must communicate clearly. Good communication skills are also necessary to show patients how to properly brush and floss.
In some offices, the dental assistant handles filing and billing with patients and insurance companies. They may even follow up with patients to ask about unpaid invoices. In small offices, dental assistants may handle patient and staff scheduling. At the conclusion of a procedure, the dental assistant makes updates to the patient’s chart and computer records.
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.
Adele Burney started her writing career in 2009 when she was a featured writer in "Membership Matters," the magazine for Junior League. She is a finance manager who brings more than 10 years of accounting and finance experience to her online articles. Burney has a degree in organizational communications and a Master of Business Administration from Rollins College.