Dental assistants assist the dental operator (dentist or other treating dental auxiliary) provide more efficient dental treatment, by preparing the patient for treament, sterilizing instruments, passing instruments during the procedure, holding a suction device, exposing dental radiographs, taking impressions, and fabricating provisional crowns. Dental operators can focus more time on the procedure, the dental assistant then effectively becomes the operator's extra hands.
High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass a state exam. Most programs are offered by community colleges, take about 1 year to complete, and lead to a certificate or diploma. Programs that last 2 years, also offered in community colleges, are less common and lead to an associate’s degree. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), part of the American Dental Association, approved more than 250 dental-assisting training programs in 2013.
Almost all dental assistants work in dentists' offices. Dental assistants work under the supervision of dentists and may work closely with dental hygienists in their day-to-day activities. Dental assistants wear safety glasses, surgical masks, protective clothing, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. They must also follow safety procedures to minimize risks associated with x-ray machines.