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What Do Dental Assistants Do? An Outlook for the College Bound

what do dental assistants do

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are nearly 365,000 dental assistants working in the U.S. Do you dream about joining their ranks?

This can be an exciting, rewarding, and lucrative career. Working in dentistry allows you to hone your skills, meet new people, and provide a valuable service to your local community.

As you take your next steps, it’s important to understand the role you’re preparing to take on. What do dental assistants do, exactly, and what do you need to become one? Today, we’re answering those questions to help you confidently move forward!

The Main Duties of a Dental Assistant

In a dental assistant role, you’ll help care for patients and provide chair-side support as dentists perform different exams and procedures. Some of the duties you’ll perform include:

  • Providing dentists with the tools and instruments they need
  • Administering and pouring dental molds/impressions
  • Helping with basic dental procedures (e.g. crowns, fillings, extractions)
  • Working with dental equipment and monitors
  • Preparing patients for dental surgery
  • Communicating with patients
  • Explaining upcoming procedures
  • Performing basic administrative tasks
  • Sterilizing dental equipment
  • Giving patients tips on oral hygiene
  • Cleaning up the room after dental procedures

While you might help polish a patient’s teeth, you aren’t expected to work in the same capacity that dental hygienists do. Most of your dental assistant duties will include making sure the dentist has everything necessary for in-office treatments and procedures.

Key Skills to Acquire

Now that we’ve covered some of the core dental assistant tasks, you might be wondering which skills you need to get started. Let’s break it down into three main categories:


With this job, you’ll help dentists perform an array of procedures, from crowns and fillings to more advanced treatments. To excel, it helps to have a working knowledge of how dentistry works and what’s required to perform each step. Some of the skills to work on include:

  • Understanding different kinds of dental procedures
  • Understanding the order of operations required for each one
  • Understanding different dental materials
  • Understanding how to clean and help maintain common dental equipment
  • Performing basic patient readings (e.g. taking X-rays, blood pressure, dental impressions)

Before accepting a position, ask your dental office about any certifications or technical training you may be required to attend. Some states require dental assistants to achieve certain licenses before they can help with more advanced procedures, such as coronal polishes.


While you won’t be expected to perform a substantial amount of office work, you may need to help with some administrative tasks. The scope of these tasks usually varies from one office to the next, but some of the most common ones include:

  • Assisting with patient scheduling
  • Performing basic office management (e.g. answering phones, filing documents, working on the computer)
  • Making reminder phone calls to patients about upcoming appointments
  • Assisting with simple billing questions and issues
  • Monitoring supply levels and ordering more as required


One of the most important dental assistant tasks is working directly with patients. You’ll see individuals who are completely comfortable in the dentist’s chair and some who are totally terrified. In your role, you’ll interact with all of them.

Many times, yours will be the first face they see when they walk through the door. If you can offer a friendly, compassionate smile and warm welcome, it can go a long way toward relieving any dental anxiety they might have.

A few of the skills you may need to learn and put into practice include:

  • Interviewing patients about their dental history
  • Settling patients in and helping them prepare for their visit
  • Listening to patients and helping to ease their concerns
  • Explaining the procedure in basic terms
  • Sharing aftercare instructions following the completion of a dental procedure

Steps to Become a Dental Assistant

Academic requirements to become a dental assistant can vary by state. Still, it’s always helpful to learn as much as you can if you plan to work in the dental industry. Here are the basic steps to follow on this career path.

Complete Your Education

Most people take classes that help them develop the technical and administrative skills required for this job. These programs usually take around one or two years to complete, with outcomes that can include any of the following:

  • Diploma
  • Dental certificate
  • Associate’s degree

Our 11-Month Dental Assistant Program is designed to provide everything you need to start a successful career in this field. While California doesn’t require assistants to achieve certification, this is the best way to set your application apart from others and stand out in the industry.

Some of the top features of our program include:

  • Free prep and testing for your Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) certification
  • Training on electronic dental records
  • Training on administrative platforms (including Microsoft Office)
  • A hands-on externship to use your skills in a real-world setting

Apply for Your License

To work as a registered dental assistant in California, you’ll need to apply for a license from the Dental Board of California. This includes completing and filing all required paperwork with the Board, which includes a copy of the following:

  • Your Board-approved RDA program certificate (RDA2)
  • Your official Dental Assisting diploma or certificate
  • Your passing grade on the RDA exam
  • A signed letter from the program director verifying that you completed the RDA program
  • Evidence that you’ve completed Board-approved radiation safety and coronal polishing classes
  • Evidence that you’ve completed Board-approved courses under the California Dental Practice Act

In addition, you may also need to complete a background check and fingerprint clearance before beginning work.

What Do Dental Assistants Do? Find Out Today

What do dental assistants do? As you can see, there’s more to this job description than what meets the eye! In this role, you’ll interface with clients, office staff, and dental workers alike. You’ll help prepare patients, assist the dentist, and handle some of the back-office work such as ordering supplies and cleaning the workspace.

This is a growing industry, and there’s never been a better time to get started. If you’re interested in learning more about our Dental Assistant Diploma Program or any other programs we offer, complete our online form to get started today!