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Dental Assistant

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

Dental assistants help dentists with tasks ranging from business management to more specialized duties, including:

  • Sterilizing and disinfecting instruments and equipment;
  • Preparing patients for dental treatment and applying topical anesthetics;
  • Arranging dental instruments and medications on chair-side tray;
  • Using a suction system to keep a patient's mouth dry while the dentist is working;
  • Mixing and preparing materials such as fillings and cements;
  • Doing lab work, such as pouring, trimming and polishing study casts;
  • Telling patients how to look after themselves after oral surgery;
  • Teaching patients about oral hygiene;
  • Answering the phone, making appointments, collecting fees for services and filling out insurance forms;
  • Maintaining patient records.

How Do I Become a Dental Assistant?

Dentists prefer assistants who have completed a 1-2 year ?Certif ied Dental Assistant (CDA) training program. These programs are offered in high schools, community colleges, trade schools, and in the Armed Forces. To become a CDA, a candidate needs to complete a program accredited by the American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation and pass the Commission’s CDA exam. Some states regulate the duties dental assistants may complete through licensure. States offering licensure have a variety of schools offering courses, approximately 10 to 12 months in length, that meet their state’s requirements. Individual states have adopted different standards for dental assistants who perform certain medical duties, such as radiological procedures.

The Dental Assisting National board offers certification as a Certified Dental Assistant, which includes examinations on radiation health and safety and infection control, two areas often regulated by states. Completion of the exam is acceptable to expose radiographs in the state of Virginia. In addition, the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) offers a competency assessment of skills and knowledge covered in high school dental assisting programs.

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