Dental assistants perform clinical and administrative support functions within  a dental office and are able to assume greater responsibilities with additional education and certifications.

Career Overview

Dental assistants play a support role and perform general office duties within a private dental office or the dental department of healthcare facilities. The responsibilities of dental assistants are diverse as they become involved with direct patient care, laboratory testing, as well as routine clerical tasks.

General Responsibilities of Dental Assistants:

  • Prepare patients for dental examination and arrange instruments.
  • Provide chair-side assistance to the dentist during examinations (e.g. handing instruments to the dentist and using suction and other devices to keep the patient’s mouths dry)
  • Wash and sterilize or dispose of dental instruments and equipment after use.
  • Record patient dental history and create/update/maintain patient charts.
  • Educate patients with regard to proper oral hygiene and preventative dental care.
  • Prepare materials to fill cavities and make dental impressions.
  • Place dental dams to separate teeth for examination and/or x-rays.
  • May take and develop dental X-rays under the supervision of the dentist. As per the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (SBDE), “You are permitted to make x-rays in Texas for one year from the first day of being hired as a dental assistant under the direct supervision of a dentist.  During this first year of employment you will want to consider taking one of the Dental Board-approved courses listed below to continue making x-rays in your 2nd, 3rd and future years of service as a dental assistant.”
  • Administer topical anesthetics to gums in preparation for root canal and other procedures and remove post-surgery sutures. .
  • Administers cavity-preventative materials to teeth, and removes excess dental cement used to fill cavities.
  • Administrative responsibilities may include scheduling patients appointments, creating and sending patient bills to insurance carriers, receive and record payments, and order needed office and dental supplies. .
  • Dental assistants who are given laboratory duties make casts from dental impressions and create temporary crowns.
  • Many states are now registering dental assistants who are then provided with additional responsibilities, such as polishing teeth and restorative procedures cavity fillings or root canal. For full details regarding the job duties that registered dental assistants  (RDAs) may perform in Texas, refer to “Regulation of Dental Assistants” guidelines.
  • For an overview of Dental Assistant Rule and Regulations visit the  Texas State Board of Dental Examiners/Dental Assisting Laws and Regulations.

Career Outlook

As per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of growth is expected to be 36 percent through 2018, a rate that is much faster than that for most other occupations.  There are two primary factors for this rate of growth: 1) increase in population size with an accompanying increase in the demand for dental services so that dentists need to hire assistants to perform routine tasks; 2) greater emphasis on overall preventative health  care, including dental care, by all age groups.

Education of Dental Assistants

According to the Commission on Dental Accreditation, there are no formal education requirements to become an entry-level dental assistant in any state and many dental assistants continue to be trained on-the-job.  In these situations, the supervising dentist, dental hygienist, or senior dental assistant teach needed skills such as dental terminology, dental procedures, chairside assistance, recording patient histories, setting up patient charts, scheduling patient appointments and other office tasks. It may take a new dental assistant three to four months to become fully versed about job duties and able to work without constant supervision.

If you are a high school student with an interest in becoming a dental assistant, it is recommended that you take courses in biology, chemistry, mathematics, computers, and psychology.

For those wishing to pursue training in the field, The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) of the American Dental Association accredits nearly 300 programs throughout the country. Most programs combine classroom study, laboratory work, and instruction in dental assisting practice and theory.

View a list of dental assisting programs in Texas >>

Coursework will include fundamentals of dentistry, dental pharmacology, dental office procedures, dental anatomy and physiology, clinical dental procedures, and dental equipment.

Programs within private vocational schools take about one year to complete and graduates will be awarded a certificate or diploma. Two year programs are offered in community and junior colleges and lead to an associate in science (A.S.) degree. Entry to either a certificate or associate’s program requires either a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED).

Even those who have graduated from accredited training programs will participate in some type of formal on-the-job training or have previous experience.  This training is necessary because dentists have varying work styles, office procedures, and methods of patient relations. Because of continuing advances in technology, dental assistants will also need to be kept current with regard to new equipment, instruments, and procedures.

Licensure and Certification

According to the Texas Board of Dental Examiners there are three levels of dental assistants:

“Qualified Dental Assistant” is a dental assistant who has received on-the-job training or instruction through a dental assisting school.  There is no credential for this level of training or instruction.

“Registered Dental Assistant” is a dental assistant who has successfully completed the state-level registration process with the SBDE (State board of Dental Examiners).  Dental Assistants who successful register and have been issued a Dental Assistant Registration Certificate by the SBDE may use the credential “Registered Dental Assistant” or “RDA”. Registration is required for those dental assistants who wish to take and develop X-rays.

“Certified Dental Assistant”  is a dental assistant who meets the education and/or experience prerequisites established by the Dental Assistant National Board (DANB). Experiential requirements are typically 2 to 4 years experience as a dental assistant on either a full or part time basis. Candidates must also passes the DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) Examination (including Radiation Health and Safety (RHS), Infection Control (ICE) and national-level General Chairside (GC) component(s), is currently CPR-certified and continues to maintain the CDA credential by meeting DANB requirements.  Dental Assistants who complete this process may use the credential “Certified Dental Assistant” or “CDA.” The designation Certified Dental assistant is required for those who wish to perform radiologic procedures

Aside from higher salaries, certification will enable dental assistants to earn higher salaries and be eligible for such career advancement opportunities as a dental office manager, instructor in training programs, dental products sales representative, or claims processor/adjuster with health insurance carriers. Dental assistants may also return to school to become dental hygienists and be eligible for a much broader range of clinical patient care.

Steps in applying for the Certification Exam through DANB:

  1. Complete the application and mail or fax to DANB with all required documentation along with the fee of $375.00. Your training program’s DANB certification number is to be recorded on the application.
    • For those students who are still attending their training program but scheduled to graduate within 90 days of test date, you may submit a letter attesting to upcoming program completion on official school stationary signed and dated by the program director.
    • Graduates of accredited programs are required to submit a copy of their final transcript or diploma.
  2. Current CPR certificate
  3. DANB will review once all documentation has been received. You will receive notice in about three to four weeks from the date you submit your application and supporting paperwork. If you are approved to sit for the exam DANB will send you a “Test Admission Notice” which will be necessary in order to register and enter the testing site.
  4. Schedule the location, date, and time of the exam through the Pearsons Vue the DANB testing vendor. Specific instructions to register for the test will be sent with the “Test Admission Notice.”
  5. Once you have completed the test you will be provided with unofficial score report subject to review by DANB.
  6. DANB will mail the official score report about 3 to 4 weeks after the exam date.

Texas Dental Assisting Salaries

Earning of/Dental Assistant in select Texas cities. All figures as per Salary.com August 2011.

    Austin $31,273
    Corpus Christi $30,715
    Dallas $32,751
    Fort Worth $32,456
    Houston $32,587

View a list of dental assisting programs in Texas >>