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Dental Assisting

Dental Assistant - Job Description

Dental assistants have many tasks ranging from patient care to record keeping. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.

Dental assistants typically do the following:1

  • Work with patients to make them comfortable in the dental chair and to prepare them for treatments and procedures.
  • Sterilize dental instruments
  • Prepare the work area for patient treatment by setting out instruments and materials
  • Help dentists by handing them instruments during procedures
  • Keep patients’ mouths dry by using suction hoses or other equipment
  • Instruct patients in proper dental hygiene
  • Process x rays and do lab tasks under the direction of a dentist
  • Keep records of dental treatments
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Work with patients on billing and payment
  • Prepare materials for a cast of teeth or create temporary crowns
  • Make casts of a patient’s teeth

There are four regulated tasks that assistants may also be able to do, depending on the state where they work. Each state regulates the scope of practice for dental assistants and may require them to take specific exams or meet other requirements before allowing them to do these procedures.1

  • Coronal polishing
  • Sealant application
  • Fluoride application
  • Topical anesthetics application

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


While dental assistants are limited to supporting and assisting dentists, dental hygienists are licensed caregivers. Hygienist responsibilities typically include cleaning, corrective and preventive procedures from removing plaque to applying fluoride. In some states they can provide temporary fillings. Hygienists are able to perform and interpret dental X-rays, and can also conduct a variety of diagnostic tests.1,3

Training & Education

Dental hygienists typically need an associate degree in dental hygiene. Every state requires dental hygienists to be licensed. Most dental assistant training programs take about a year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. These programs are offered by community and career colleges. Some states require dental assistants to pass a state exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements.1,3

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 wage data and 2012-2022 employment projections, Dental Assistant
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics 2013 wage data and 2012-2022 employment projections, Dental Hygienist.
3 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Dental Hygienists, on the Internet at