What You Need to Know About Becoming a Dental Assistant

Written by Kate Lopaze

Going to the dentist’s office probably isn’t one of your favorite activities. Yet it’s a necessary part of taking care of yourself, and if you’re lucky you’ve found a great dental office and staff that make the process less painful—literally! The dental assistant is an essential member of this team, caring for patients and/or keeping the office running. If you think you might be interested in joining this career path, here’s a snapshot of the dental assisting field.

What does a dental assistant do?

A dental assistant’s responsibilities may include:

  • Managing patient intake
  • Maintaining office records
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Assisting the dentist during procedures
  • Sterilizing and maintaining equipment
  • Taking patient x-rays (additional certification may be necessary)
  • Teaching good oral hygiene and post-appointment care to patients

I’m squeamish about medical procedures. Can I still be a dental assistant?

Yes! Many offices hire dental assistants who primarily manage the office and perform clerical tasks like maintaining records, managing patient appointments, billing, acting as the office receptionist, and ordering and managing supplies. You’ll want to check job postings carefully to make sure that the job doesn’t require hands-on patient care or assisting the dentist during procedures.

How do I become a dental assistant?

In most cases, becoming a dental assistant doesn’t require a four-year college degree. However, some states require that dental assistant candidates complete a certification program and/or pass an exam, so you’ll want to be aware of your own state’s requirements before you choose this path.

You’ll need strong organizational and clerical skills as a dental assistant, as well as solid communication and interpersonal skills. You’d be working with staff and patients (and you may be the first face people see when they visit your dental office), so those customer service skills are especially important in this role.

How much do dental assistants make?


The median salary for dental assistants is $34,500, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to surveys done by Payscale, dental assistant salaries can vary pretty widely depending on location and experience level at hiring. Payscale also found that salaries tended to be higher for assistants who brought strong office and business skills to their current job.

Dental assistants also have high job satisfaction, per the Payscale survey: 5 out of 5 dental assistants polled said they were “extremely satisfied” with their jobs.

Who’s hiring dental assistants?

Many dental assistants are employed by independent or small-practice dental offices, but there are also many large firms hiring as well. Among the top corporate employers are:

  • Aspen Dental
  • Dental Group Ltd
  • Family Dental Care
  • Heartland Dental Care

What does the dental assistant career path look like?

common career paths

This field is has great development potential, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting 25% growth by 2022. Many dental assistants also choose to go on and become Certified Dental Assistants, dental hygienists, or a number of other dental/medical certification areas and administrative roles.

Now that you know what it takes to get started in this popular and rewarding field, what do you think? Could this be you in the near future?

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.