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6 Ways to Know if Dental Assisting is the Right Career Path for You

Dental assistantFor most people, visiting the dentist’s office isn’t something to look forward to. Whether for a routine checkup or a curative procedure like getting a filling for a cavity or a root canal, it’s usually among the last places people would prefer to spend their time.

Dentists and their staff know this, so finding ways to lower the stress being experienced by patients and putting them a little more at ease is a very real objective at most dental practices. And more often than not, the first member of the team whom this responsibility typically falls to is the dental assistant.

One of the first things to know about dental assistants is the difference between them and another key member of the team, the dental hygienist.

Dental assistants handle a much broader range of duties, including administrative tasks like greeting patients, billing, and appointment scheduling, as well as patient-oriented work, such as fluoride treatments, taking impressions, and assisting dentists during procedures. Dental hygienists, on the other hand, are primarily responsible for patient care and assisting the dentist.

Needless to say, no two days are alike for a dental assistant.

So, given the important role dental assistants play and the broad range of responsibilities they carry, it helps to know what type of people are best suited to enter the field, if it’s a profession you’re considering. Here are some common characteristics of those who typically succeed as dental assistants.

  1. Dental Assistants have Good People Skills

    Many times, the first person that patients encounter at the dentist’s office is a dental assistant. Dental assistants spend much of their time interacting with patients, whether it’s greeting them and assisting them in the front of the office or working with them at some point during their procedures. So it’s important for anyone looking to enter the field to have compassion and be able to connect with patients on a human level. At the same time, good people skills come into play for dental assistants in terms of working with dental hygienists and dentists as part of the office team.

  2. Dental Assistants can Multitask

    As stated earlier, the responsibilities that dental assistants carry with them on a daily basis are broad and diverse. One minute you may be answering phones and scheduling an appointment, and the next you may be asked to help prep a workstation and sterilize instruments. Having solid multitasking skills is a must in order to stay on top of everything in a setting that can be quite fast-paced.

  3. Dental Assistants have strong Dexterity

    When dental assistants are handling some of their clinical duties, sometimes that involves sterilizing instruments and assisting dentists and dental hygienists during treatment. As you probably know, some of the instruments and equipment used can be small and intricate. So it helps to have solid dexterity and good motor skills to ensure you can ably handle things like mouth mirrors, explorers, periodontal probes, and cotton forceps, among others.

  4. Dental Assistants have the right Poise

    Ask any dental assistant, and they’ll tell you that there will be times when it’s easy to get flustered. There will be days when the phone doesn’t stop ringing and when you encounter tough patients and have back-office things to get done immediately. This isn’t every day, but it does happen. Having the patience, poise, and ability to calmly navigate everything that’s happening is a big help.

  5. Dental Assistants have strong Communication skills

    When dental assistants work directly with patients, they often find themselves explaining information and details that, while easily understandable to them since they do it every day, aren’t easily understood by patients. So it’s essential that you’re able to communicate clearly to ensure you’re meeting their needs. Additionally, as part of the dental care team, you also need to engage in teamwork and effective communication with dental hygienists, dentists, and other dental assistants.

  6. Dental Assistants always have a Positive Attitude

    Bringing a positive attitude to the workplace is important for anyone, including dental assistants. Again, working at a dental practice can at times be stressful. When you approach any challenging situation with positivity, it sends a message to the other members of the team that you’re someone that can be counted on and will always be willing to work toward a solution. A positive attitude also helps those looking to advance their careers in the profession, to positions like office manager, which isn’t uncommon for dental assistants.

Does this sound like you?

If it does, you need to start exploring dental assistant programs that offer the level of education and training that will position you to not just successfully enter the field, but also to thrive within it.

The Dental Assisting program at Northwestern College is highly respected by employers for its abundance of hands-on training, exceptional facilities, seasoned instructors, and curriculum that is designed with the help of those currently working in the industry.

Established in 1902, Northwestern College has a rich history of serving students in the greater Chicago area who are looking for a quality education and training that’s focused and comprehensive. With programs in healthcare and business, Northwestern College offers accredited programs and is founded on the mission of meeting the distinct needs of each student who walks through its doors.

Northwestern College’s Dental Assisting program is designed to prepare students to:

  • Apply infection control and safety guidelines in the dental setting.
  • Complete patient information on the dental record, including medical and dental histories, vital signs, and tooth charting annotations.
  • Assist with or perform an extra- or intraoral examination and record findings.
  • Expose, process, and mount dental radiographs using both traditional and digital techniques.
  • Perform dental laboratory procedures.
  • Assist in managing medical emergencies.
  • Model professional behaviors, ethics, and appearance.
  • Effectively communicate with patients, family members, and other members of the healthcare team.
  • Exhibit professional conduct, including reliability, responsibility, honesty, and ethical behavior.

Take advantage of the huge opportunities while they’re here.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, the need for dental assistants nationwide will grow 18 percent from 2014 to 2024—a rate much faster than average. And in Illinois, O*NET OnLine reports that in that same time frame there will be 470 dental assistant job openings statewide every year.

This means big career opportunities for those looking to enter the field of dental assisting. With all of this opportunity, along with the proven and established dental assisting program at Northwestern College, the next great success story could be you.

Northwestern College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, 230 S. LaSalle St., Suite 7-500, Chicago, IL 60604, (312) 263-0456, www.hlcommission.org.