The Definitive Dental Assistant FAQ

The Definitive Dental Assistant FAQ

This is THE definitive dental assistant FAQ that is meant to help address the most frequently asked questions people have. If you are interested in dental assisting and want your questions answered as concisely as possible, you might want to browse this resource.

Question & Answers

Q: What does a dental assistant do?

A: The most important duty is to make sure the office runs smooth and efficiently. To do this you should expect to prepare medications, sterilize/prepare dental instruments, take X-rays, keep accurate records, assist the dentist in oral surgery, instruct patients, and help patients feel comfortable before seeing the dentist.

Q: Where do dental assistants work?

A: The majority of dental assistants work in dental offices but there are some that work in Federal and State government offices.

Q: What qualifications do I need?

A: In most states there are no formal requirements to become one. Roughly 78% of dental assistants only have a high school diploma. However, there are some states that do require qualifications, which you can check on the map below.


Q: How long does it take to become one?

A: Since most states don’t require any formal training you can start as soon as today! But most people prefer to get some type of experience under their belt in order to attract employers. Formal training often takes less than two years and and is invaluable in the long run.

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Q: Where can I receive training?

A: Community colleges, dental assisting schools, and trade schools are a few options. In most cases, dental assisting schools offer certificates while colleges and trade schools offer diplomas.

Q: How long do training programs last?

A: Non-accredited programs last for as little as 4 months and provide a broad overview of the job. Accredited programs usually last around 9 to 12 months for a certificate and 2 years for a diploma.

Q: Are there online training programs?

A: Yes there are. Although few schools provide training, the ones that do are fully accredited programs. Schools such as Penn Foster Career SchoolMonroe Community College, and Southeast Community College are a few that offer online training.

Q: What skills do I need to do the job well?

A: Often the skills that will help you the most will be traits such as being genuinely helpful towards people, communicating well with others, and being well-organized.

Q: How much does a dental assistant make?

A: The average salary varies ranges around $33,600 per year, which is about $16.09 per hour. The low 10% earns around $25,857 salary while the top 10% earns around $41,158.

Q: How does experience affect salary?

A: An entry level assistant earns an hourly wage of around $11 to $15, which is around $22,750 and $31,200 per year. An experienced dental assistant can make as much as $22 an hour, or an annual salary of $45,700.

Q: In which areas do dental assistants earn the most?

A:  Those that work in urban areas often earn the most, as there is more demand for assistants in more populated areas. Manchester, NH, San Francisco, CA, Barnstable Town, MA, Anchorage, AK, and Minneapolis, MN are the highest paying cities in the US.

Q: How many dental assistants are there in the US?

A: In 2010, there were more than 300,000 dental assistants in the US. This number is expected to rise as much as 31% by 2020, with 80,000 annual job openings!

Q: What traits do employers look for in a prospective employee?

dental assistant faqA: Above all else, employers often look for a candidate that is well-focused, a team player, and a hands-on learner. These are the most important things to demonstrate toward a potential employer, as they are characteristics of an ideal employee.

Q: How can I increase my chances in getting hired?

A: Becoming certified or getting training often reflects highly on your resume. But if you don’t have either of those, you should demonstrate that you are capable of remarkable versatility, and that you would be an ideal assistant that can prove your worth.

Q: What is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?

A: A dental assistant is exactly what it sounds like, a dentist’s assistant. An assistant helps to make the office more efficient by helping the dentist with clinical and administrative tasks. On the other hand a dental hygienist spends more time with clinical tasks. Duties are often to help clean, maintain, and examine teeth and gums.

Q: What does CDA(certified) mean? How does it differ from a RDA(registered)?

A: CDA refers to a certified dental assistant, which is nationally recognized in the US. A registered dental assistant is one that is recognized within their own state.

Q: How do I become a certified dental assistant?

A: To become a CDA you will need to meet a few requirements first. You will either need accredited training or work as a dental assistant for a minimum amount of hours before you are able to take the test from DANB. The requirements are explained here.

Q: How much does a certified dental assistant make?

A: On average a certified dental assistant makes $2.01 more per hour than their non-certified counterparts. This amounts to an average annual salary of $36,670.

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