Dentists would not be able to do their job, or run their own practices, without dental assistants. A great dental assistant will be there to make sure everything runs smoothly. Their main responsibilities involve preparing treatment rooms, sterilising instruments and tools, handing instruments to the dentist during patient care and ensuring all exams and procedures are carried out in compliance with the Dental Practice Act. They often also meet and greet patients, prepare them in their seat and document patient treatment and dental charts during the consultation. The study path you pursue will depend on the type of environment and specialisation you wish to work in, along with how far you would like to progress in your career.
A dental assistant’s day is spent ensuring all treatment areas are sterile, organised and prepared for the dentist to treat patients. This entails sterilisation of equipment, putting bibs on patients and positioning tools and equipment within the dentist’s reach as required. A dental assistant may also assist with developing X-rays, as well as pouring, trimming, and polishing casts. Dental assistants also educate patients on oral hygiene, plaque and tartar removal and control, and provide instructions for post-operative care. They work as part of a team within a variety of dental practices, speciality clinics and hospitals.
Aspiring dental assistants must successfully complete the relevant qualifications in dental health maintenance in order to work in a practice. Some important skills to be successful in the role include a professional yet caring bedside manner, a solid work ethic, confidence in operating specialised dental equipment, and the ability and willingness to work long hours often on your feet. As a dental assistant working in a person’s mouth, impeccable personal hygiene is absolutely essential – not only for your own health but for the health of your patient. To put your patients mind at ease while they are in such an uncomfortable, sometimes painful, position requires good communication skills. You also need to be able to pay attention to detail and follow instructions quickly and carefully.
Becoming a dental assistant is a stepping-stone to many different career paths. Tailor your studies and training to help you find fulfilment in your professional work. Below are some popular dentistry careers, though there are many more related roles that can be pursued in healthcare.
Dental hygienists work in a team to assist dentists with teeth cleaning and oral care check-ups. They advise patients on preventative care such as better brushing techniques, flossing and general oral hygiene and maintenance. They use various dental tools to remove plaque, tartar and stains, administer fluoride treatments, polish teeth, and assist with X-rays of a patient's mouth.
Dental professionals with the relevant experience and tertiary qualifications can apply their skills to working on trade publications, journals, textbooks or websites designed to inform and educate the dental profession on current issues, techniques and research. This position requires writing and editing skills and you must also be deadline-driven, creative and have exceptional attention to detail.
Consultants are typically those with dental experience who deliver educational courses or on-site dental practice presentations to dental professionals. As professional speakers, dental companies may employ them as educational consultants, who develop educational material and present it to healthcare professionals and the public.
There are opportunities for employment in the dental industry at many levels, from entry-level positions requiring vocational training to specialised study for those pursuing high-level roles within dentistry.
These vocational courses will allow you to join the dental profession in an entry-level role, requiring supervision from senior staff. You may even choose to join a practice first in an administrative capacity, before studying to become a dental assistant.
There are many courses available that enable you to go further in your dentistry career – such as qualifying as a dental hygienist, or even a dentist or orthodontist.
If you’re a dental assistant who wants to become a dentist, you will need to study a bachelor degree in dentistry. If you want to hone in on a particular specialisation, you will need to complete further study in order to practice.
Australian dental assistants are required to register with the Dental Hygienists' Association of Australia (DHAA) after successful completion of their qualifications.
Get your dental career off to a fast start by applying for jobs as soon as you can. Ensure that you emphasise your professional qualifications and use your cover letter to address why you’re the best candidate for the job.
People are becoming more and more protective of their teeth. As the spotlight on dental health isn’t dimming any time soon, dental assistants are predicted to remain in high demand. There is currently a shortage of dental assistants so there are an abundance of employment opportunities.