Dental assistants work with dentists to assist in the examination and treatment of patients. They make patients as comfortable as possible, prepare them for treatment, and obtain dental records. Assistants hand dentists instruments and materials and keep patients’ mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices. Afterward, they clean and sterilize the instruments and may instruct the patient in self-care. Some dental assistants prepare materials for making impressions and restorations, expose radiographs, and process dental x-ray film as directed by a dentist.
Most dental assistants learn their skills on the job, although many attend training programs offered by trade schools, technical institutes and community colleges. These are typically completed in one year or less and lead to a certificate or diploma. There are also two-year programs leading to an associate degree. Graduates of accredited training programs or those with at least two years of full-time experience can choose to take the Dental Assisting National Board Certification Examination.