More About the Profession

What Dental Assistants Do

Dental assisting is a field that is both challenging and rewarding. Dental assistants are people who like helping others, enjoy working closely with patients and other members of the dental team, and like working with their hands. In fact, assistants frequently are relied on as the dentist’s “other set of hands.”

There is no lack of variety in the types of tasks that dental assistants perform. They prepare equipment, materials, and instruments for patient care; perform sterilization and disinfection procedures; provide patients with instructions for dental procedures; create temporary crowns; provide coronal polishing and placement of sealants; take impressions of teeth; create study casts (molds); take and review patient medical histories; expose and develop radiographs; and a variety of other duties. They may also be responsible for administrative tasks, such as billing, patient verification, scheduling of various types of treatment appointments, and material inventory.

Assistants may work in a general-practice office where a dentist provides multiple types of treatment, including restorative/operative work (fillings), prosthetics (crowns, bridges, and dentures), and perhaps some surgery. They may want to specialize for work in periodontics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, pedodontics, or orthodontics.

In the state of New Mexico, dental assistants can become certified to perform the following expanded duty tasks: radiology (taking x-rays), coronal polishing (polishing of teeth and removal of stains), fluoride treatments (the act of placing fluoride on a patient’s teeth), and sealant placement (used to prevent decay). These certifications are obtained through the State Dental Board and are a portion of the Dental Assisting National Board Certification Exam.

Dental Assisting students have the potential to be exposed to Blood-Borne Pathogens, such as Hepatitis B, AIDS/HIV and other potentially infectious diseases. More information can be obtained in the Dental Assisting Program application and student handbook.