Dental assistants are medical professionals that work in dental offices.
They perform many tasks including sterilizing and preparing instruments, preparing patients for their procedure, getting patient information, scheduling appointments, keeping records up to date, and instructing patients on oral hygiene.
Other duties may include taking x-rays, teeth impressions, polishing teeth, and giving fluoride treatments.
Let’s not forget, the most important duty, holding a terrified patient’s hand!
There are several perks to working as a dental assistant.
For instance, they can often work on a flexible schedule or choose part-time or full-time hours.
Their pay is not bad, as the average dental assistant in the United States makes about $45,000 per year.
However, in most states you do need to attend a training program and pass an exam.
Though this is not true for all states, for example, Florida allows people to gain training in clinical settings and does not require an exam.
It takes more than education to be a good dental assistant though.
You should be kind, caring, have excellent communication skills, be well organized, and not be bothered by blood.
The need for dental assistants is projected to rise by 8% over the next 10 years.
So, the jobs will be there for the right person.
Read on for a list of the pros and cons of being a dental assistant.
Table of Contents
- Pros Of Being A Dental Assistant
- 14 Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Assistant – Summary Table
- Should You Become A Dental Assistant?
Pros Of Being A Dental Assistant
1. Short Training Period
Becoming a dental assistant is a great choice for someone that wants to work in the medical field, but may not want to spend the time and money that it takes to become a doctor or nurse.
The training usually takes no more than a year (depending on the state), and the school prepares you to take the state exam.
Some states don’t even require an official program or exam, you can simply complete training while working.
2. Variety Of Duties
As long as you like the job, you’ll never be bored as a dental assistant.
You’re constantly on the go and doing a variety of tasks.
Every day brings new patients and procedures to assist with.
You’ll be doing record-keeping for a bit and then jump to cleaning instruments or assisting the dentist with a procedure.
You may even get to perform a few simple ones of your own, like putting on sealants or giving fluoride treatment.
Bottom line, you won’t be doing the same thing over, all day long.
3. Positive Work Environment
Dentist offices are usually pretty quiet, and immaculately clean.
You get to work closely with colleagues and have the opportunity to build friendships.
Patients are usually cordial and nice to talk with.
As you’re trying to distract them from the impending procedure, your chatting may lead to a few laughs and nice conversation.
There’s also usually nice music, or, in most cases, a television where you can keep up with the news.
4. Personally Rewarding
As a dental assistant, you’ll get to help people look and feel better.
It’s always a nice feeling to see someone happy with a new look, or just relieved of some pain.
You can be proud that you had a part in making that happen.
5. Flexible Hours
Dental assistants can often choose from full or part-time work.
They may also be able to choose what days and hours they work.
This is great for people that want a worklife balance, need to pick up kids at school, or are attending school themselves.
It can be a great weight off a working parent’s mind, knowing that their job is able to work around their children’s school and activities.
6. Ability To Move
Being a trained dental assistant is a valuable skill that you can take anywhere.
So, should you decide you need a change of scenery, or your spouse needs to transfer to another state, you’ll have no problem finding a job elsewhere.
Depending on the state, you may need to take the exam again, but that should be easy for an experienced assistant.
7. Low Stress
Most of the time, working in a dental office incomes with much less stress than other medical facilities.
The visits are usually planned, and are not emergency situations.
Patients are there voluntarily and basically know what to expect.
Dental assistants know what their tasks for the day will be and there are no surprises.
1. Physically Demanding
Dental assistants are on the move for a good portion of the day.
They move from exam room to exam room, deliver various instruments, and must retrieve patients from the waiting room.
They are on their feet a lot, reaching, and in uncomfortable positions.
For example, they may need to lean over a patient with a suction tube for almost an hour during a root canal.
This can lead to fatigue and even muscle strains.
Many assistants report issues with back, neck, and wrists due to the work they perform.
There’s also a risk of hearing loss due to the high pitch of the instruments.
If you have physical limitations, or don’t like physically strenuous work, being a dental assistant may not be for you.
2. Bodily Fluids
One of the hazards of the job is bodily fluids, in the way of blood and saliva.
Though dental assistants wear protective gear like masks and gloves, there is still a risk of exposure.
Dental assistants need to be comfortable with the sight of blood, as well as clean it up.
They must constantly be aware of the presence of fluids and protect themselves.
If you don’t like blood and saliva, this might not be a good career choice.
3. Low Autonomy
Unfortunately, dental assistants are typically the lowest ranking people in the dental office hierarchy.
After the dentist comes the office manager, then the dental hygienist, and finally, the dental assistant.
So they pretty much need to do what everyone else asks of them.
Not that this is a terrible thing, but it leaves little room for independent working opportunities and being able to work at your own pace.
So, if you don’t take directions well, or like to work on your own, this job might not be a good choice.
4. Not Challenging
Being a dental assistant is not a terribly difficult or stressful job, but at the same time, it’s not particularly challenging either.
You sort of know what to expect each day, and there’s not much opportunity to learn new skills or have an issue pop up where you can push yourself to the limits of your abilities and creativity.
5. Distressed Patients
Though most patients are cool, because they are at the dentist for routine care like cleanings or checkups, some patients may be very uncomfortable, nervous, and some may be downright wrecks and make themselves sick.
Dental assistants are usually the first line of defense for these situations.
You’ll need to calm the patient, reassure them, and try to quell their fears.
6. Unpleasant Situations
Like most jobs in the medical industry, dental assistants do not escape the dark side unscathed.
There can often be some pretty ugly things going on in people’s mouths.
Besides the obvious cavities or yellow stains, some folks are experiencing some extreme situations.
From horrible halitosis (bad breath) and rotting teeth, to accidents where they have had teeth knocked out and are bleeding.
As a dental assistant, you need to be prepared for anything.
There may even be instances where patients bite, pass out, or get sick.
7. Exposure To X-Rays
Though the risk is very low, as a dental assistant you will be exposed to a certain level of radiation from taking patient x-rays.
Normally, this is not an issue, as protective equipment is worn.
However, it may not be the best thing if you are pregnant, immune compromised, or just don’t want to be near radiation at any level.
14 Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Assistant – Summary Table
|1. Short Training Period||1. Physically Demanding|
|2. Variety Of Duties||2. Bodily Fluids|
|3. Positive Work Environment||3. Low Autonomy|
|4. Personally Rewarding||4. Not Challenging|
|5. Flexible Hours||5. Distressed Patients|
|6. Ability To Move||6. Unpleasant Situations|
|7. Low Stress||7. Exposure To X-Rays|
Should You Become A Dental Assistant?
If you’re looking for a job within the medical field that provides a steady income, being a dental assistant may be good for you.
It’s a job where you get to help people each day and make their lives better.
You will need to have great communication skills and take direction well.
Dental assistants must also be well organized, be able to work as part of a team, and generally have a strong stomach when it comes to blood and medical procedures.
It’s a job where you’re always on the go and performing a variety of tasks.
So, if you’re a people person and none of the cons deter you, then definitely look into this career further.