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Take Advantage of Big Opportunities as a Dental Assistant

Dental AssistantEvery day across America, countless people walk into  dental offices feeling a little nervous, apprehensive, and hopeful that everything will go okay. Also, much of the time, the main individual they experience who’s ready to welcome them and set their nerves calm is the dental assistant.

There’s a lot of people that are not knowledgeable about dental assistants or the role they play as opposed to dental hygienists, the amount schooling it takes to enter the field, and what opportunities are available.

Here are some key things that anyone who’s considering a career in healthcare should know about dental assisting, so they can make the best informed decision.

There is a difference between dental assistants and dental hygienists,

Many people assume the two job titles are interchangeable and refer to the same position, but that’s not the case. While dental hygienists typically spend most, if not all, of their time handling clinical duties with patients, dental assistants are required to be much more versatile in their responsibilities.

Dental assistants take care of clinical tasks like applying sealants and fluoride treatments, taking impressions of patients’ teeth, sterilizing instruments, and assisting the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures; as well as front office duties such as greeting patients, scheduling patient appointments, processing billing and payments, and gathering patient histories.

A wide range of skills are necessary to succeed in the field.


In any given day, dental assistants will be taking care of both front-office administrative duties as well as clinical, patient-care responsibilities Dental hygienists need to be able to:

  • Communicate effectively with patients and other members of the dental care team
  • Be organized and have a keen attention to detail.
  • They need sharply developed clinical skills including excellent dexterity since they’ll be working with intricate and often small medical tools
  • Work well as part of a team
  • Bring compassion as a way to help put patients at ease

There’s a shortage of dental assistants and, as a result, exceptional growth projected in terms of employment opportunities.

It’s no secret in the healthcare industry that there are big opportunities out there in many fields. And dental assisting is no different. In fact, just a few years ago in a report published by CareerBuilder, dental assisting was identified as one of the top 10 occupations in healthcare facing major shortages.

There are a number of reasons causing this shortage, including an aging population and surging demand for healthcare services, to more widespread access to health insurance and advancing technology that’s resulting in increased demand. Either way, there’s no denying that there will be an ongoing need for dental assistants in Illinois and across the country.

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 timeframe, there will be 470 dental assistant job openings statewide every year.

Dental assistants find a number of ways to advance their careers along interesting professional paths.

Many dental assistants are perfectly happy working that field throughout their career. At the same time, you’ll find others who, after time, decide to use their experience in dental assisting as a stepping stone to other things.

Some of these varied career paths include education, with experienced dental assistants returning to education and training programs to serve as instructors; medical/dental office managers, for dental assistants who prefer the administrative aspects of the profession over clinical work; dental product sales representatives; and for those who enjoy the clinical responsibilities, dental hygienist, which requires more schooling.

It doesn’t take a four-year or even two-year college degree program to become a dental assistant.

The typical educational requirement to enter the field is a certificate program, which usually can be completed in as little as 12 months, but don’t mistake the shorter program duration for ease of completion.

Top-notch dental assisting programs should be accredited, be supported by modern technology and simulation labs for hands-on training with feature experienced instructors who bring many years of working knowledge in the field, and a well-rounded curriculum that covers all areas that dental assistants are required to understand.

Northwestern College’s Dental Assistant Program

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.

The Dental Assistant Program at Northwestern College 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/intraoral examination and record findings
  • Expose, process and mount dental radiographs using 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.

A Powerful Combination

With all of the professional opportunities afforded those looking for a career as a dental assistant, and with Northwestern College’s Dental Assistant Program, students will find a powerful combination for success.

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.