What it Takes to Become a Dental Administrative Assistant?

Overview

A dental assistant is a key player in the dental office. Typically a dental assistant is the key person that helps the patient feel comfortable, and the individual that collects key information about a patient’s history, medical insurance, and other data prior to examination. How much of a role a dental assistant has depends on many factors, including a dental assistant’s educational background, experience, and the number of staff a dentist has on hand.

Some dental assistants take on a more administrative role, while other dentists will train an assistant or require training in more hands on roles, including sterilizing and preparing equipment, updating patient records, and preparing rooms for procedures. The scope of your role will depend on many different factors including the education and training that you receive prior to becoming an assistant.

Many dental assistants with the strict title “administrative assistant” will take on more of a role at the front desk, working with patients as they check in, and helping patients with insurance plans, payment plans, and record keeping. There are some dentists however, that prefer to hire dental administrative assistants that have some experience in the dental field, so they can prepare them for some clinical duties as well. Understanding this will help you get a leg up in the dental industry.

Work Environment

Most dental administrative assistants work in a dentist office. This may be a private practice, a group practice, or a community dental clinic. The work environment may be very busy at times, or slower. The hours are usually traditional office hours, although some dentist offices work four days each week with longer hours during the four day, and take three days off rather than a traditional five day workweek. There are some offices that also have hours offered on the weekends. How many hours you work will depend on the dentist’s particular schedule, and whether there are other dental administrative assistants that you work with.

Requirements

Education

There are many different ways to become a dental administrative assistant. In many states and for many employers, there are no formal educational requirements to become a dental administrative assistants. Many dentists will look for dental administrative assistants that have a high school diploma, and one or more years of clerical experience. Some will prefer candidates that have a background in healthcare or experience working in a healthcare setting.

Training

Some dentists will prefer a dental administrative assistant also take on clinical duties. When this is the case, many will want a dental administrative assistant to also take on the role of a dental assistant. In cases like this, the dentist may offer training. However, it may be necessary that you also learn dental terminology, which may include learning the names of instruments, or taking certain courses, including anatomy, biology, chemistry and related courses. There are some states requiring individuals working as dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program which takes approximately 1 year to complete.

Licensing/Certification

If your state requires a certificate or diploma in dental assisting, then you can complete a program from an accredited school in approximately 1 to 2 years. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) provides a listing of more than 285 programs. Having this certificate will give you a better chance of getting a position of a dental administrative assistant than other candidates without any formal training. Certification is available through the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam which is offered from the Dental Assisting National Board. While this is not necessary for all dental administrative assistant positions, it may help you achieve higher salary, and give you a leg up again on other candidates.

Necessary Skills/Qualities

To succeed as a dental administrative assistant, one must display the following qualities:

  • Excellent organizational skills. While working in any administrative capacity, it is essential to have very good organizational skills. One must be able to manage many tasks at once. Learning to prioritize these tasks is very important to your success in this field.
  • Good relationship-building skills. Building good relationships among staff, clients, and dentists will allow you to succeed as a dental administrative assistant, and relate to individuals that require assistance, particularly those that are not feeling well, or experiencing a dental emergency.
  • Sharp listening ability. It is important to understand the needs of clients that come in, as well as other members of the staff.

Salary

The salary of dental administrative assistants varies depending on the experience one has, and the certifications or education one has. Generally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median average salary for dental assistants is $35,080. This may vary between $25,550 and $47,580 depending on the type of duties that you take on, the office you work in, and the experience that you have.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for dental assistants is good, expected to grow by about 31 percent or more through 2020. This is faster than average for most occupations. Most healthcare occupations are expected to grow in the upcoming years as more and more individuals seek out healthcare and health offices continue to expand their practices.

Related Readings

References and Further Readings

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