What is a dental assistant?

What is a Dental Assistant?

Lucy Grimes wasn’t sure either. She just knew her mom, Michelle, had quickly changed out of scrubs and raced downstairs, hair dripping wet, to help bake her younger sister’s birthday cake. Lucy had carefully measured out the ingredients – all of which were even more carefully purchased – then prepared the counter for space and separate bowls.

Michelle soon sampled the mixture, but her unpleasant smirk had Lucy quickly add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to which Michelle returned a cheeky kiss.

Except this peck didn’t provide a smile. Lucy had a foggy look of uncertainty and frustration.

“I’m not sure I want to go to college, mom,” Lucy said. “All of the girls are getting their acceptance letters and it’s all they talk about.”

Lucy looked at her mom, more focused on her pearly smile – her whites seemed to glisten like a fresh snow under rays of sunshine.

“What about the dental field? Like an assistant.” said Michelle. “That’s how I started and even after I became a hygienist it was still the best hands-on education I had in thirty years.”

Lucy wasn’t sold. Really, she wasn’t versed enough to be. Her focus turned to the oven.

“Assistants are the eyes and ears in the room. They’re not just another pair of scrubs but a quiet reminder of the efficacy of the dental experience,” said Michelle.

Lucy peered at the bubbling bread through the oven window then quickly organized the cutting board and mitt.

Mom smiled and spoke. “Just consider it. I think it’s you.”

It’s up to your imagination to conclude Lucy’s story, but if you have any sympathy or relative commonality with her perhaps becoming an assistant is the next step in your auspicious dental career.

Assistants are vital members of the oral healthcare team. In the operatory,  they increase the efficiency of care for both the dentist and hygienist. In the front office they are often the first face to greet the patient.


What are a dental assistants’ duties?

  • Coordinate patients as well as schedule future appointments.
  • Update and maintain patient records
  • Assessing a patient’s medical history and record vitals if necessary
  • Prep exam rooms to assure necessary equipment is present and organized
  • Make patients comfortable before and after treatment
  • Initiate post-op instructions following a surgery or procedure
  • Teach patient’s proper oral hygiene techniques
  • Take x-rays and tooth impressions
  • Process lab work for the dentist
  • Sterilize instruments
  • Order supplies

How do you become a a dental assistant?

There is no formal education or training requirements for this level of assisting. All training is hands-on under the supervision of office staff – hygienists, managers, and dentists.

Once an assistant has enough experience and confidence in daily duties, their dentist may recommend even further proficiencies such as expanded functions. These are taught via state guidelines under the supervision of a company like DentalAssistEd.

Expanded functions include coronal polishing, pit and fissure sealants and monitoring of patients under nitrous oxide and/or sedation.

When it comes to performing these functions in-office, the State of Illinois requires assistants to:

1. Be at least 18 years of age, AND

2a. Complete 1,000 hours of clinical dental assisting experience, OR

2b. Complete a CODA-Accredited dental education program, OR

2c. Hold a current national DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) Certification, AND

3a. Complete an Illinois Board-approved course relative to the expanded function in question, subject to specific didactic and clinical requirements, OR

3b. Provide proof of completion of an Illinois Board-approved dental assisting program that contained the expanded function in the curriculum.