Posted in Career Insights

When many people go to see the dentist, they often don’t spend much time in the company of the dentist alone.  

Usually, they spend more time with the dentist’s assistant than with the dentist. 

What does a dental assistant do on a daily basis?

The job duties of a dental assistant can actually be quite varied. From handing instruments to the dentist to performing administrative duties, the work of a dental assistant is always busy. 

In general, dental assistants provide technical, administrative, and even interpersonal assistance to help the dentist not only to work with patients during visits, but to develop a decent working relationship with them when they come into the office. 

Here are just a few tasks that the average dental assistant might perform on any given day. 

Administrative Tasks

The first person that one will generally encounter when they walk into a dentist’s office is usually a receptionist/administrative assistant.  While this job can be filled by almost anyone, it is often filled by a dental assistant. 

In this capacity, an assistant may spend a lot of time in contact with various patients in the office. They call and schedule customer appointments, ensure that recommendations are made for continuing care for the customer’s teeth, and similar tasks.  They might also do the billing work and talk to insurance representatives concerning payment. 

While this may not sound important, it is really one of the most important parts of running a dentist’s office. Perhaps being an administrative worker may not be what many dental assistants dreamed of when learning their trade, but the work they do behind the counter, seated at a computer, is invaluable. 

Interpersonal Tasks

Whether they’re receiving a root canal or simply coming in for a routine cleaning, the dental assistant is usually the first one to interact with the vast majority of patients. 

The assistant can work to prepare the customer for their procedure.  Most often, they will ask about any sort of allergies, as well as other medical history questions. 

However, the most important thing that the dental assistant may do in the course of their daily duties is to help keep the patient calm and comfortable. Few people enjoy going to the dentist, and the prospect of having a drill pierce a tooth to fix a cavity is not a pleasant one.

A great dental assistant can help assuage the fears of the patients, and ensure that they remain calm throughout the procedure.  

While that may not sound like a big deal to some, it is much easier to perform any sort of procedure on a person who is calm than it is on a person who is fretting and worried about the pain. 

Technical Duties

No discussion of dental assistant duties would be complete without talking about the technical assistance they provide in the course of their day. Indeed, chief among dental assistant responsibilities is rendering aid to the dentist themselves. 

A dental assistant generally spends most of their time helping the dentist to perform various procedures, from numbing the patient’s gums and passing the dentist instruments, while also doing their best to ensure that the patient is calm while in the chair. 

A good dental assistant should be able to help the dentist immensely, acting as a second pair of hands and a relief during longer procedures that can cause muscle fatigue. 

A Walkthrough of a Typical Day in a Dental Assistant Role

What does a dental assistant do? The best way to answer this question is to go through a typical day on the job. For most dental assistants, work begins at 8 AM and ends at 5 PM. Although some clinics are open on weekends, most dental assistants work on weekdays. 

Typically, assistants begin their day by sterilizing or disinfecting dental instruments and preparing exam rooms. This usually happens before the clinic opens so that everything is prepared for the dentist when patients start arriving.

Once patients begin walking in the door, dental assistants often have a variety of tasks to perform. Some may be in charge of taking patient information for the day, while others may need to assist the dentist with a procedure.

Ultimately, this part of the workday isn’t always the same, so dental assistants need to be able to efficiently transition between different tasks. One minute you might find yourself taking an x-ray of a patient, and the next, you may be greeting a new patient at the door. 

As the end of the day approaches, dental assistants won’t have as many patients to serve. Instead, they often transition into closing duties, such as cleaning, ordering supplies, or taking inventory. 

The Process of Working with Patients

As we have seen, dental assistants perform many preparatory tasks at the beginning of the day and many closing tasks at the end of the day. But what does a dental assistant do once they have a patient?

After the patient checks in, the dental assistant usually takes them to the exam room for their appointment. They examine the patient’s record and update any information as necessary. In addition, they prepare the patient for their procedure by answering any questions.

Once the procedure begins, the dental assistant may help the dentist or hygienist. After the procedure is complete, the dental assistant may review post-operative care instructions with the patient. They may even schedule a follow-up appointment.

Finally, once the patient leaves, they restock and clean the exam room for the next patient. If there is any downtime between patients, dental assistants usually return to their administrative duties.

Scope of Work and Dental Assistant Responsibilities

Something to keep in mind about dental assistant roles is that the scope of work and responsibilities varies from state to state. This is because some states allow dental assistants to do certain tasks while others do not. 

For example, the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) outlines the delegable functions of dental assistants in every state. In Illinois, dental assistants may not take final impressions of teeth for creating crowns, bridges, inlays, dentures, or other restorative treatments. However, in Colorado, dental assistants are allowed to do this with direct supervision.

Another thing to consider is that not all states allow you to perform certain tasks without getting an expanded certification. As such, it’s important to review the specific requirements for your state before committing to any course.

What About Cleanings and Extractions?

Generally speaking, any procedure that requires probing with dental tools cannot be performed by a dental assistant, even under supervision. Those procedures are usually done by a dental hygienist or dentist instead. 

Instead of performing the procedure itself, dental assistants play a support role. For example, if the dentist is cleaning a patient’s teeth, the assistant may help them by ensuring the mouth stays clean and dry. They might also assist the dentist by passing instruments and serving as an extra set of hands. Either way, the assistant is there to help make the process as smooth as possible.

Becoming a Dental Assistant

To become a dental assistant, one does not need to do anything other than show a willingness to learn and a desire to help make smiles brighter. However, the things that a dental assistant can do are extremely limited if they do not invest in training and certification. 

With the help of an introductory course, such as the one offered online at Stratford Career Institute, a prospective dental assistant can learn a bit more about things like X-rays, coronal polishes, and other more advanced functions that they can help to serve in their office.  

Explore Stratford’s Dental Assistant Online Course

If you’re looking for a rewarding new career, or you’re just looking to get a little further ahead in the world of dental assisting, a good fundamental education can help you get started. 

Enroll in the Dental Assistant Course today!

This educational program is an introductory course designed to help students gain knowledge necessary for the vocational application of this subject. Completion of a Stratford Career Institute program does not fulfill the legal requirements of particular state licenses or certifications, which may require additional training or apprenticeships. 


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Become a Dental Assistant

Become a Dental Assistant

If you’re considering a career in the dental industry, enroll in Stratford’s Dental Assistant Course today.