The Vital Role of a Dental Assistant

Written by: 
Daymar College

Looking to become a dental assistant? Interested in what a dental assistant does on a day-to-day basis? Dental assistants are not only in increased demand, new technologies and the aging of the population will attribute to an increased need for more dental assistants. If you enjoy helping others and working in a rewarding environment, dental assisting may be the career for you.

What a Dental Assistant Does

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assistants perform tasks, including cleaning plaque[1], taking x-rays, recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Dental assistants typically do the following:

  • Prepare patients for treatments and procedures
  • Sterilize and organize dental instruments
  • Hand instruments to dentist during procedures
  • Keep patients’ mouths dry by using suction hoses
  • Instruct patients in proper oral hygiene, flossing and brushing techniques
  • Process X-rays and complete lab tasks under the direction of a dentist
  • Keep and file records of dental treatments
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Manage patient billing and payment processing

Almost all dental assistants work in dentists’ offices. Dental assistants work under the supervision of dentists and alongside dental hygienists. Dental assistants take many precautions when working with patients including wearing safety glasses, surgical masks, protective clothing, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. Dental assistants must also follow safety procedures to minimize the risk to patients’ vital organs from doses of radiation during X-ray procedures.

Dental Assistant Job Growth

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 18 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will likely continue to increase the demand for dental assistants to support dentists. New technologies introduced into the dental field will also attribute to a new for additional dental assistants.

Technologies in Dentistry

Many new technologies in the dental industry will increase the need for highly skilled dental assistants. Many dental assistants will need to obtain diplomas or degrees in dental assisting to show their competency in learning new skills as these technologies are introduced in the dentist’s office.

Lasers for Tooth Cavity Detection – instead of the dentist using traditional instruments to find cavities and poke the top of your teeth, dentists can use diode lasers to detect and remove cavities. Teeth that have decayed will glow under diode laser light technology.

VELscope – a special light technology that dentists use to detect early forms of cancer in the mouth.

Nanobots – it has been theorized that microscopic machines may be used to straighten teeth, deliver anesthesia during oral surgery, diagnosis diabetes or treat oral cancer.

pH Sensor Mouthpiece – detect acidic saliva, a risk factor for tooth decay and gum disease.

Smart electronic Toothbrush – technology that makes sure you brush your teeth properly by using sensors to track your brushing habits.

Aging Population

As the large baby-boom population ages, the need to maintain and treat teeth will continue to increase the demand for dental assistants. The increased need for dental implants, permanent fixed bridges, dentures and patients wanting to keep original teeth will fuel the need for dental assistants.

Dental Implants – an artificial tooth root placed into the patients jaw to hold a replacement tooth or bridge. A titanium post is surgically positioned into the jawbone beneath the gum line to mount replacement teeth or a bridge. Unlike dentures, dental implants don’t usually come loose.

Permanent Fixed Bridges – bridge the gap between one or more missing teeth. A permanent fixed bridge is made up of two or more crowns for the teeth on either side of the gap.

Dentures – removable replacement for missing teeth and surrounding tissue. A person can have complete or partial dentures.

Oral Health for the Aging

As the population continues to live longer, we are naturally going to see more cases of oral health problems. These increased cases of oral issues will increase the demand for dental assistants working in dentist’s offices.

Dry Mouth – Dry mouth is a symptom of old age. Also, the elderly population may take medications that can cause dry mouth. Dry mouth has been proven to lead to cavities.

Periodontal Disease – gum disease caused by the bacteria in plaque making the gums swollen, red and more likely to bleed. One main reason for advanced gum disease in the elderly is that it goes painless into the later stage of development. Advanced gum disease can destroy the gums, bone and ligaments resulting in tooth loss.

Cardiovascular Issues – periodontal disease can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke. Toxins released into the bloodstream can help to form fatty plaques in the arteries. Plaque deposits can also lead to blood clots that can block the flow of blood causing a stroke.

Mouth Cancer - according to the American Cancer Society, there are about 49,670 cases of mouth, throat and tongue cancer diagnosed each year. The average age of most people diagnosed with these cancers is 62.

Denture-Related Stomatitis – inflammation of the mucous membrane of the mouth caused by local infection, systemic disease, irritants and allergic reactions.

Whether it is new dental technologies or the aging population, dental assistants are in increased demand and will continue to grow in demand through 2024. More dental assistants will be needed to support dentists’ offices handling more elderly patients in their dental practice. The dental assistant will benefit from a diploma or degree from an accredited career college to prepare themselves for the ever-evolving world of the dental industry.


[1] Requires state certification