A dental assistant performs the majority of office-related tasks for a dentist, such as taking care of their appointments, calling patients to inform them of results or changes in their schedule, as well as taking care of the office’s supplies. The duties of a dental assistant may be close to those of a dental hygienist in some cases, though the jobs are still vastly different. A dental assistant may be tasked with recording data for a patient, such as taking their x-ray picture. The dental assistant is also responsible for preparing the dentist’s tools for use, cleaning and sterilizing them properly.
There aren’t any specific educational requirements for becoming a dental assistant – a high school diploma is sufficient in most cases, and all the skills required to perform the job are learned during employment. Having especially high grades in courses like biology, chemistry and mathematics in the diploma can be of benefit to candidates, as well as general understanding of work in the medical field and good personal hygiene.
Dental assistants earn between $27,000 – $39,000, with the median for 2009 being $29,000. The job is paid considerably lower than that of the dentist him/herself, though in most cases it’s up to the dentist to determine their assistant’s salary – and it’s not rare for dentists to develop strong working relationships with their assistants and compensate them for their work better than the industry average, with salaries going as high as $47,000 in some cases. This normally requires a few years of dedicated work.