What does a dental assistant do?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from patient care and taking X-rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.
Dental assistants typically do the following:
- Ensure that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
- Prepare patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
- Sterilize dental instruments
- Hand instruments to dentists during procedures
- Dry patients’ mouths using suction hoses and other equipment
- Instruct patients in proper oral hygiene
- Process X-rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist
- Keep records of dental treatments
- Schedule patient appointments
- Work with patients on billing and payment
Assistants who perform lab tasks, such as taking impressions of a patient’s teeth, work under the direction of a dentist. They may prepare materials for dental impressions or to create temporary crowns.
Dental assistants are allowed to perform the following procedures in some states:
- Coronal polishing
- Sealant application
- Fluoride application
- Topical anesthetic application
Coronal polishing, which means removing soft deposits such as plaque, gives teeth a cleaner appearance. In sealant application, a dental assistant paints a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities. Fluoride application, in which fluoride is put directly on the teeth, is another anti-cavity measure. Some dental assistants may be qualified to apply local anesthetic to an area of a patient’s mouth, temporarily numbing the area to help prepare a patient for procedures.
Each state regulates the scope of practice for dental assistants.