What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

Dentist and dental assistant performing procedure on patient

If you’ve ever sat in a dentist’s chair, you’ve already benefitted from the work of a dental assistant. They may have strategically placed the suction tube to remove saliva during a procedure, or they could’ve taken a dental impression of your teeth with a mold. While you probably are more familiar with the work done by the dentist and the dental hygienist, dental assistants also perform many crucial duties when it comes to providing care for the mouth and teeth.

The dental assisting certificate program at Northwestern College in Bridgeview, Illinois, and serving the greater Chicago area, can help prepare you for this critical role in dentistry. Here, we discuss some of the important tasks that trained dental assistants are expected to perform in a variety of dental and healthcare settings.

Preparing Exam Rooms and Dental Equipment

First things first – what does a dental assistant do to prepare for each patient’s appointment? A few of their duties include:

Sterilizing Equipment

This task is crucial to the practice of dentistry. Sterile equipment provides safety for both practitioners and patients, reducing chances of infection during surgeries, extractions, fillings, and other dental procedures.

Assembling Instrument Trays

The dentist depends on the dental assistant to have the tools ready for each procedure performed that day. Performing this task requires an understanding of each type of procedure, as well as any special needs of the individual patient.

Helping Patients Prepare for Dental Exams and Procedures

A huge part of a dental assistant’s job is establishing a rapport with patients and helping them feel at ease during their visit, especially if they’ve had fears about visiting the dentist. At Northwestern College, our students learn the importance of developing skills such as:

Practicing People Skills and Taking Vital Signs

Dental assistants get patients settled and make them as comfortable as possible, relaying to them a sense of calm and confidence. This is appreciated by the patient and is necessary to the performance of an efficient dental procedure. In addition, dental assistants take vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature, and must be ready for any kind of health emergency.

Taking X-Rays and Understanding Principles of Radiography

The radiographic images of the patient’s mouth and teeth must be accurately exposed and of good quality. The dental care team uses these images to plan and implement procedures, and they are an important part of the patient’s health record.

Assisting During Procedures and Around the Office

Working in tandem with dentists, receptionists, and other personnel, dental assistants are a key aspect to making all daily operations run smoothly. This ranges from assisting the dentist during procedures to handling a variety of administrative tasks. As a dental assistant, you can expect to be:

Handling Tools and Materials

After laying out the instrument tray for the specified procedure and patient, the dental assistant is ready to help the dentist by quickly providing the right tools when asked, as well as preparing and handling any materials to be introduced into the mouth.

Providing Education and Follow-Up Instructions

After a procedure, the patient must understand how to care for the mouth and teeth during recovery, and know when to call with questions, or whether to take medication. The dental assistant can help educate the patient and provide further information when needed.

Serving in an Administrative Capacity

The dental assistant is also a good administrator, often working with patients to secure proper billing and payment, maintaining accurate patient records, ordering supplies, keeping up with inventory, and scheduling appointments. 

Learn More About Dental Assistants

Contact Northwestern College in Bridgeview, Illinois, and serving the greater Chicago area, to learn more about the career of dental assisting.