A dental assistant performs several functions in a dental office but the primary duty is to assist the dentist during chairside procedures. Other duties include taking and processing x-rays, preparing dental instruments for patient treatment, sterilizing and disinfecting instruments and instructing patients on oral hygiene and care.
Laboratory duties an assistant may do includes making temporary crowns, dentures, bridges or other products, while office functions consist of scheduling appointments, receiving patients, processing payments and bills and ordering supplies.
Available College Programs in Norfolk:
- Dental Assistant Diploma
- Expanded Function Dental Assistant Diploma (EFDA)
- Associates of Occupational Science Degree in Dental Assisting
Available Program in Richmond:
- Dental Assistant Diploma
- Dental Assistants - from the U.S. Department of Labor
A career as a dental assistant can be rewarding since the dentist, as well as the patient, depend on the assistant for office efficiency and chairside procedures. Because they carry many responsibilities, dentists look for an assistant that is reliable, friendly, mature, and can communicate well with patients. Many times a patient may feel nervous about certain procedures so the assistant’s duty would be to help them feel comfortable and ease any concerns they may have.
An assistant should have manual dexterity in performing certain tasks. One example is taking patient x-rays. The technician must be able to bend the film and insert it in the patient’s mouth with the minimum amount of discomfort. They must then aim the camera for the highest quality picture. The dentist will use this x ray to examine for cavities and periodontal diseases between the teeth so image quality is important.
Many assistants learn through on the job training but advancement opportunities are not as good as those that have formal college training. With formal training, an assistant may handle advanced clinical, laboratory and administrative duties and have more responsibilities assigned to them. Assistants with formal training and job experience also have greater employment opportunities available to them.
Some assistants use their college training and experience as a stepping-stone to advance to dental hygienist or Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA). This career change requires that they go back to school and seek licensing. Other may choose to specialize as a dental laboratory technician, which has its own specialized training. In most situations though, assistants with prior formal training will be more familiar with the dental techniques and procedures they must learn to advance their career or specialize in a field.
If you are a dental assistant with experience residing in the Hampton Roads area, you may want to consider Centura College’s Expanded Function DA program in Norfolk. This allows the DA, licensed by the Virginia Board of Dentistry, to do advanced chairside functions, some without the presence of a dentist. In addition, they may be able to earn more income.