What Exactly Does a Dental Assistant Do?


Most people are familiar with basic healthcare professionals: doctors, dentists, and nurses. But there are many people who keep an office and practice running smoothly. In the medical field, one of the most in-demand jobs are dental assisting. This career lets you work with a dentist and learn about dental health. But what does a dental assistant actually do? What does day-to-day life look like for these individuals?

A dental assistant increases the efficiency of the office and the quality of the healthcare that patients receive. Dental assistants must have a desire for hands-on experience, strong communication skills, and a thirst for responsibility.

What Dental Assistants Do

A dental assistant has varied and comprehensive tasks within a dental office. Their tasks cover both technical and interpersonal skills. In addition to taking care of equipment, they interact with both the dentists and the patients. Overall, the purpose of a dental assistant is to increase the overall efficiency of the office. Without dental assistants, day-to-day function would be more difficult to perform, and the quality of patient care would decline.

Support the Dentist

One aspect of day-to-day work is supporting the dentist. As the name implies, a dental assistant helps by assisting in several different treatment procedures. The exact way that the dental assistant helps with treatment will vary depending on the practice. Some dental assistants may be responsible for aspects of patient care with or without dentist supervision.

Dental assistants take and develop dental radiographs. These are x-rays of a patient’s mouth. They deliver the results to the dentist so they can be analyzed. In addition, they’re able to take impressions of teeth to create study casts, otherwise known as realistic models of teeth.

Care for Patients

Dental assistants are responsible for patient care and safety in a dentist office. The dentists, hygienists, and other dental professionals are also responsible for patients, but dental assistants often have more direct one-on-one interaction with them.

Prior to any dentist interaction a dental assistant will confirm the patient’s medical history. They will record information regarding the patient’s past dental care, any health conditions they might have, medications they take, and medication allergies. They’ll also use a blood pressure cuff to take the patient’s blood pressure and pulse readings.

A dental assistant serves many of the same purposes as a nurse in terms of patient comfort. They help patients to feel comfortable prior to, during, and after treatment. This is particularly important in dental care because patients can often be nervous. Dental assistants help soothe young patients and patients who are afraid of dental procedures.

After patients have undergone surgery or received other dental treatment, a dental assistant will give them the instructions for oral care. They will make sure the patient understands how to avoid infection, let the site heal, and take any prescribed medications.

Dental assistants are also responsible for certain aspects of patient education. They will teach the patients about how to maintain their oral health through proper oral hygiene. This means showing them how and when to brush their teeth, recommending toothbrushes, showing patients how and when to floss, and offering counseling regarding nutrition and oral health.

Clean the Dentist’s Station

Dental assistants are responsible for cleaning the dentist’s station and equipment. This involves performing a variety of tasks related to hygiene and sanitization. They will create procedures for infection control in the office to increase patient safety and prevent the spread of disease. In addition, they will sterilize and prepare equipment and instruments before use.

They may also be responsible for keeping the office itself clean including dusting, wiping down surfaces, and keeping things organized.

Perform Certain Administrative Tasks

In addition to keeping the office organized, they may manage the office by using a personal computer. Office management tasks include things like ordering supplies and replacing old equipment. They will often communicate with patients and suppliers by phone to schedule appointments, coordinate billing, and order new shipments.

Where a Dental Assistant Works

A dental assistant can work in any dental practice. Some might be general dentistry, but it’s also possible to work in more specialized practices. Depending on the interests and strengths of the person, they might want to work with orthodontists, periodontists, or oral surgery clinics.

These are some of the most common places for dental assistants to work:

  • Within solo practices that employ just one dentist
  • Within group practices that employ two or more dentists
  • Within specialty practices
  • In dental clinics within hospitals
  • In dental claims processing for insurance companies
  • Within companies that sell dental products as dental sales representatives and experts on dental health

Skills Every Dental Assistant Needs

Being a dental assistant requires several different skills. The job comes with varied tasks, and every day will be slightly different. A dental assistant may want a career where they adapt to challenges and interact with people on a daily basis, rather than a job with a strict and repetitive schedule.

Dental assistants need compassion, attention to detail, good communication, and active listening skills.


It’s vital that a dental assistant be compassionate. Medical professions require compassionate and caring. Being kind to patients is one of the simplest and best ways to promote overall patient health. Patients who are comfortable and happy are more likely to be proactive about their oral health.

A dental assistant needs to keep compassion in mind especially if they work in certain specialized fields. For example, pediatric dentists work with children, who might be frightened or present unique challenges. They will also need to be compassionate if working with patients who are about to undergo oral surgery or patients who are in pain due to their dental health.

Attention to Detail

It’s important for dental assistants to have attention to detail. There are specific procedures they will need to follow with regards to patient care. For example, a dental assistant needs to make sure the equipment is properly sterilized with every use. They will also need to make sure supplies and equipment are replaced as necessary.

A dental assistant also must pay attention to detail when they take patient histories. Mistakes in patient information can be serious. It’s always important to understand the patient’s medication allergies and current medications so the dentist can avoid prescribing anything that could cause a reaction. The same is true of any hereditary medical conditions or past medical issues that could impact their treatment.


A dental assistant needs to communicate with other patients and with the dentists. Though they probably won’t be responsible for billing procedures, they may need to communicate with office suppliers and insurance companies when following up on patient questions. A dental assistant needs to talk on the phone to schedule appointments and answer calls, and they will need to have a variety of scripts to help with different interactions.

A huge part of the job is communicating with patients. A good assistant can help patients to feel comfortable and safe throughout their stay. A dental assistant needs to be good at communicating different ideas and concepts. Patients will rely on them to understand how to take care of their oral health following different dental procedures and checkups, so they will need to be willing to teach them.

Communicating with the dentist and other staff in the office is equally important. A dental assistant should understand what the dentist is asking when they assist with different procedures, and a dental assistant should communicate information about the patients clearly and efficiently.

Active Listening

Active listening is a key component of being a dental assistant. When they are scheduling appointments, they need to listen to patient concerns and be sure to note them accurately. The same is true when they are taking patient histories and performing dental procedures.

A dental assistant should employ active listening when working with the dentist. They will need to understand what is being asked of them and provide both quality patient care and good answers to questions. Active listening is about more than just paying attention. The dental assistant must also provide good feedback.

Advantages of a Dental Assistant Career

There are several advantages to having a career as a dental assistant. Jobs tend to have good working conditions. If you’re the kind of person who enjoys flexibility and variety, this might be the career path for you.

Since the dental assistant is responsible for many different tasks, they don’t need to worry about getting bored. Every day has a new challenge to keep them active and engaged. A dental assistant is an integral part of the office life, and they can always feel valued and appreciated as.

The career comes with a great deal of flexibility. There’s a high demand for dental assistants right now, which means that there are both part-time and full-time positions available. Depending on the type of setting, there may also be flexible hours and nighttime shifts.

Many dental assistants also report having a high sense of personal satisfaction with the job. They help people and have an active role in the comfort and safety of other human beings. This makes the dental assistant is feel good about themselves and their life.

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.