Proper dental care is important to every man, woman, and child. Due to the continued sharp population growth in the United States, the government forecasts that dental assistants will continue to be in high demand until at least 2014. As one of the fastest growing occupations, now is the time to enter into this rewarding and exciting career!

Dental assistants are often capable of completing a training course within just twelve months. While it is not mandatory in all states that a dental assistant be licensed, many states severely limit the tasks an unlicensed dental assistant may perform. In California, for example, the job details vary depending on whether a dental assistant is licensed or not. As would be expected, there is also a difference in the pay you can expect to receive if you are licensed versus not being licensed. This is because the duties can be so varied.

An unlicensed dental assistant in California may:

  • Apply fluoride treatment
  • Examine orthodontia for defects
  • Expose finished x-rays
  • Hand instruments to the dentist or oral surgeon during a procedure
  • Handle billing
  • Polish finished casts
  • Pour casts
  • Prepare instrument trays
  • Prepare insurance claims
  • Ready a patient for procedures
  • Schedule appointments and greet patients
  • Sterilize equipment
  • Suction a patient’s mouth during a procedure

Once a dental assistant is licensed, he or she can handle additional responsibilities. Those tasks include:

  • Examine teeth for damage using mirrors and other tools
  • Handle teeth whitening treatments
  • Insert dressings after oral surgeries
  • Prepare temporary crowns
  • Take patient histories
  • Remove stitches

Finally, a licensed dental assistant who passes the state dental examining board’s advanced training program has additional job details. These may include:

  • Apply sealants
  • Prepare enamel bonding treatments
  • Prepare and take teeth impressions for dental appliances

The pay scale for dental assistants depends on the assistant’s work experience. The median salary of a dental assistant is $33,470 (May 2010, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor).  The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,680, and the top 10 percent earned more than $47,090.

Job listings require a strong knowledge of dental tools, the ability to work well with others, excellent customer service skills, calm sense of being even when stressed, and the ability to solve problems independently. Dentists want assistants who require little prompting to get the work completed in a timely manner. As many tasks require precision details, a steady hand is often necessary. Things like removing stitches or applying sealants could injure a patient if the dental assistant has shaky hands.

With any dental assistant program, expect to take the following courses:

  • Algebra
  • Biomedical Sciences
  • Business Math
  • Careers in Dental Science
  • Chair side Assisting
  • Composition
  • Contemporary Literature
  • Coronal Polishing
  • Dental Anatomy
  • Dental Assisting Seminar
  • Dental Materials and Tools
  • Ethics
  • Introduction to Dental Sciences
  • Introduction to Oral Hygiene
  • Keyboarding
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology
  • Psychology
  • Public Speaking
  • Secretarial Skills
  • Software Applications
  • X-Ray Techniques and Safety Measures

Once you have completed your education, you need to be apply to become a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) in California.  According to the Dental Board of California:

To Qualify for RDA examinations, you must:

  1. Graduate from a Board-approved RDA educational program of a minimum of 800 hours (approximately 8 months); or
  2. Complete at least 15 months of satisfactory (1,280 Hours) paid work experience as a dental assistant with a dentist licensed in one of the states in the United States; or
  3. Complete a California Department of Education approved 4-month educational program, and 11 months of work experience with a dentist(s) licensed in one of the states of the United States.

View a list of dental assisting programs in California >>