How to Become a Dental Assistant


Interested in becoming a dental assistant? Maybe you are wondering how to become a dental assistant? Proper oral care is increasingly recognized as essential for overall health, and with that comes the need for trained support specialists who can handle both the clinical tasks in a busy dental office. Job flexibility and advancement opportunities are just some of the many benefits a career in dental assisting offers. What does a dental assistant do, and how does someone interested in the field get started?

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

A dental assistant provides support for dentists. They perform a wide range of clinical tasks that allow licensed professionals to spend more time with their patients. Depending on the size and scope of the practice they work for, duties may include:

  • Sanitizing tools and equipment
  • Preparing treatment rooms
  • Maintaining equipment and emergency supplies
  • Welcoming and comforting patients
  • Taking basic vital signs
  • Performing or assisting with diagnostic x-rays
  • Helping in the lab
  • Providing chairside support for dental professionals
  • Providing patient education

Where Do Dental Assistants Work?

Nearly all dental assistants work in private practices. In a large, multi-dentist practice, dental assistants are more likely to have specific, but limited responsibilities, allowing them to choose work in areas of interest. In smaller offices, a dental assistant is more likely to be a jack-of-all-trades and have the opportunity to use their full range of clinical abilities.

Education Requirements for Dental Assistants

Because of the complex and responsible nature of the role, dental offices like to hire trained assistants with proven skills. Vocational schools specialize in having new dental assistants’ workplace-ready in the shortest amount of time with courses from anatomy to medical terminology as well as practical experience.

The skills learned in school prepare graduates for entry-level jobs and in most cases, to sit for one of five certification exams from the Dental Assisting National Board. Trained, certified dental assistants are among the most attractive to employers, and they may qualify for more advanced positions without needing as much experience as other candidates.

Essential Skills for A Dental Assistant

Dental assistants are needed anywhere quality oral care is practiced, but the healthcare field isn’t for everyone. The best potential students are motivated to learn and to develop these ten skills for success.


Empathy is the ability to understand the feelings of others, and it’s a skill dental assistants call upon daily in their practice. For some patients, visiting the dentist is a particularly stressful experience, and they need a comforting yet firm hand to guide them through the process. Without the willingness to feel what patients experience and to see things from their point of view when they’re sitting in a treatment chair, a dental assistant can’t offer the emotional support they need.

Some people are born emphatic, but it’s a challenge for others. The good news is that with education and exposure to clients from different backgrounds, empathy is a skill that can be learned and nurtured.

Team Spirit

Dental care is collaborative, and successful dental assistants have positive working relationships with both the dentist and coworkers. An oral care practice is a busy place and sharing a common goal with teammates requires the willingness to enthusiastically engage with supervisors and colleagues while respecting the differences in their personalities and how they approach their jobs. When everyone on a team feels respected and valued, they do better work. That’s something managers expect, and patients deserve.

Communication Skills

A large part of a dental assistant’s job is communication. As the first person who sees a patient arriving for treatment, the assistant often bears the brunt of their concerns. For the visit to go smoothly, they need to convey a sense of calm while answering the client’s questions and diffusing their worry, all while confidently managing multiple clinical tasks.

During procedures, a dental assistant functions as a second set of hands for the dentist. They monitor the patient while passing the necessary instruments, and they perform time-sensitive tasks that require concentration and a certain rhythm of communication.

A dental assistant must interact with patients of different ages and intellectual abilities both verbally and in writing. For example, good communication is needed when explaining a procedure to a special needs child or reviewing detailed follow-up instructions with an anxious adult.

Dental assisting students have the opportunity to collaborate with others during their training and practice communication techniques, but it helps to be articulate and enjoy talking to people.

A Positive Attitude

Everyone is grateful for team members who bring a positive attitude to the workplace. Employers want staff who are friendly and eager to work, while colleagues appreciate coworkers with a smile and a can-do spirit.

Dental practices are fast-paced, and its part of a dental assistant’s job to help maximize the productivity of other staff while ensuring clients are satisfied. Keeping things positive is the ideal way to reduce stress and help everyone stay relaxed, but focused, during busy days.

Time Management Skills

Most functions in healthcare are time-sensitive, and dentistry is no exception. From sanitizing the treatment room and having the proper instruments prepared to getting clients checked in quickly and developing x-rays in time for the dentist to see them before a visit, appointments are planned down to the minute. An entire day’s schedule and revenue are at risk if something is delayed.

Busy days can be overwhelming, but solid time management skills prevent them from becoming too stressful. Dental assisting students for whom organization and time management doesn’t come easily might find the work challenging at first, but with practice and by embracing the techniques taught in school, it becomes second nature.

Critical Thinking Skills

Dentists depend on dental assistants to keep their day flowing smoothly. Critical thinking skills or the ability to look at facts objectively and come to accurate conclusions, is a must for prioritizing tasks and making important day-to-day decisions. Critical thinking is the type of real-world common sense that tells a dental assistant that the few moments they spend calming a worried child before an extraction will both satisfy the parents and make the dentist’s job easier.

Attention to Detail

Most of a dental assistant’s responsibilities require strict attention to detail. From mixing filling materials and x-ray developing solutions to taking accurate medical histories and filling out complicated referral and insurance forms, mistakes can be costly, and they compromise the quality of care. Working error-free in a busy setting is tough, and it takes practice, but it’s essential.


The excitement of learning new skills and doing different things every day is part of what appeals to students about a career as a dental assistant, but it also means that being able to switch gears is part of the job. A dental assistant may wear many hats in a day, but when challenges arise, it requires the ability to adapt quickly and graciously.

An oral care practice isn’t like a hospital emergency room, but it can feel that way when a quiet day catching up in the lab is disrupted to care for a patient in pain. And when the flu catches up with staff and everyone is doing double duty, a dental assistant may be asked to do any of the tasks he or she is trained for, even if it’s not in the regular job description.


Being reliable means consistently meeting performance expectations. Employers, colleagues, and clients presume dental assistants will carry out their duties on time and with a professional, compassionate attitude. Leaving personal problems at 乐乐棋牌 while tending to others at work isn’t always easy but breaks in concentration can lead to errors and harm to the patient.

A reputation for reliability is necessary to succeed in any healthcare field, but it’s also possible to achieve a healthy work-life balance with basic self-care strategies. Practice administrators understand that staff makes sacrifices to serve patients, and they try to offer job flexibility in return.

Professional Competency and the Motivation to Learn

Dental assisting requires education because caring for others in a healthcare setting demands current, demonstrable skills. Training programs give students the knowledge they need to succeed, but graduation is just the beginning. Dentistry is a complex and rapidly evolving field in which new techniques and technology are continually introduced. Even CPR certifications must be renewed every few years.

To keep pace, dental assistants must stay abreast of developments in the field through continuing education, and they should seek training when needed to further their skills. A fundamental, lifelong commitment to learning and to remaining professionally competent is a must in any medical field.

Dental assistants are respected members of the oral healthcare team, and their role is expanding as dentistry advances. Giving patients the best possible oral care requires many talented hands, and those of a trained support specialist are among the most valued. If a quick-start career in healthcare sounds appealing, a rewarding job as a dental assistant can be just around the corner with the right training.

Interested in learning more about how to become a dental assistant? Do you need to become a dental assistant first?  The Dental Assistant training program at Meridian College provides extensive hands-on training including a school externship at a dental office where you will assist the dentist in treating actual patients.

Contact Meridian College today to learn more about becoming a dental assistant.