The role of a dental assistant will vary with each employer, but may include working the front desk, scheduling, record keeping, preparing equipment, readying patients for treatment, cleaning teeth, or taking x-rays. Dental assistants typically work with the dentist to provide quality care to patients. In some cases, dentists prefer that the assistant handles clerical tasks, rather than offering direct medical assistance.
Dental assistants that do work with the dentist to offer care may sterilize dental instruments, set up the treatment area and hand the dentist instruments during procedures. They may also suction the mouth of the patient to keep it dry, complete lab tests, document procedures and treatments, clean and polish teeth and apply topical treatments. The tasks that a dental assistant can complete also varies with each state, as some states do not allow certain tasks to be completed.
To become a dental assistant, a degree is required in most states. These degree programs are often offered at community colleges and take approximately one year to complete. Once a degree is received, the student will be required to pass a state exam in order to become licensed. However, there are some states that allow dental assistants to work without a college degree, focusing more on the hands-on training they would receive while employed.