In modern dentistry, dental assistants have literally become indispensable for high quality oral care. Many dental schools today are training dentists in the method of four-handed dentistry, where a dental assistant and dentist work together to more efficiently perform clinical tasks. Dental assistants often sterilize and prepare instruments for a patient's clinical visit, greet new patients, and prepare them in the dental chair. They can remove oral sutures, place dental dams, process x-rays, make oral casts, and perform a variety of other clinical tasks. Some dental assistants also perform administrative duties, such as answering phones and scheduling patient appointments.
Dental assistants my be trained on the job or through formal certificate and associate degree programs. Certificates train students in practical clinical tasks, oral health, medical science, and professional demeanor; associate programs include this training, plus a series of courses in liberal arts topics. Some states require dental assistants to pass the Certified Dental Assistant examination after completing an accredited dental assisting program, in order to perform certain clinical tasks.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, trained dental assistants should have excellent job opportunities in the coming years, due to a variety of factors. The increase in preventative dental care and the training of new dentists in four-handed dentistry will both contribute to a dramatic rise in new dental assistant hires during the 2008-2018 period. Dental assistants who have special certification to perform x-rays and more clinical tasks will have better job prospects. The middle 50% of dental assistants earn $27,000-40,000 a year, and the average wage is $33,000.