Pediatric Dental Assistant Career Guide

What is a Pediatric Dental Assistant?

A pediatric dental assistant is an oral care professional who assists fully-licensed dentists throughout the processes of dental examinations, cleaning, and other types of dental procedures strictly performed on patients who are children.

Trained to work with infants, toddlers, children, and teenagers, pediatric dental assistants help educate those patients and communicate with their parents regarding a variety of oral health and hygiene concerns. A pediatric dental assistant is essential to pediatric dental practices as he or she facilitates the overall productivity of the office by streamlining the flow of incoming and outgoing patients.

What Does a Pediatric Dental Assistant Do?

While some tasks pediatric dental assistants may or may not be authorized to carry out depend upon the state in which they are licensed to work, their general roles and duties are fairly universal. First, by using an age-appropriate and child-friendly vocabulary, pediatric dental assistants are responsible for teaching children in a way that they can understand why it is important to regularly and consistently maintain their own oral hygiene at home. Pediatric dental assistants first show children how to brush and floss properly, and then, typically using a doll or set of oversized prop teeth, they will observe and guide those children as they practice the steps on their own.

Next, it is usually preferable that a pediatric dental assistant is the go-to/point-of-contact who teaches parents about the various ways that they should be implementing preventative-care measures at home for their children’s oral health. According to his or her professional opinion, a pediatric dental assistant will also inform parents of the potential struggles and challenges they will likely face that are particular to their child. And finally, pediatric dental assistants educate children and their parents about the foods and habits harmful to children’s oral health, such as, chewy snacks, gummy candies, hard candies, sugary juices, thumb-sucking, and sleeping with a pacifier and/or bottle.

Prior to a dental examination or procedure, pediatric dental assistants are responsible for sterilizing dental tools, adjusting equipment, preparing the room, and making any other necessary accommodations such as setting out specialized tools or booster seats for small children. Next, pediatric dental assistants provide basic supervision while children are inside examination and procedural rooms where they are surrounded by expensive equipment and potentially hazardous sharp instruments.

Related Reading: Dental Hygienist Career and Educational Requirements

During procedures, such as teeth impressions, extractions, cavity fillings, and root canals, they help dentists by passing them tools and suctioning excess saliva from the mouths of patients. Pediatric dental assistants may also assist dentists with the application of dental sealants and fluoride treatments. Independently, a pediatric dental assistant may take and process patient X-rays.

Much of what a pediatric dental assistant does is considered administrative work. First, they are typically charged with the task of greeting incoming customers, procuring payment, insurance, and other necessary personal and confidential information, and recording written dental issues.

Other types of administrative tasks may involve managing the phones, answering calls, scheduling appointments, and/or modifying existing appointments. And finally, pediatric dental assistants are typically responsible for escorting children to the appropriate examination or operatory room where their dental work is to be performed.

What Do You Learn in a Dental Assisting Degree Program?

  • Equipment and Tool Care – In a dental assisting degree program, students learn how to care for and use dental tools and equipment. As preventing oral infections is of foremost concern, a large portion of this course is devoted to teaching students how to correctly sterilize and prepare reusable instruments.
  • Examination and Procedure Assistance – Dental assistants are largely responsible for providing licensed dentists with hands-on assistance during examinations and procedures. A dental assisting degree program teaches students how to prepare an operatory room, its tools, and equipment prior to dental procedures, and also how to provide optimal and effective assistance throughout the procedure.
  • Administrative – Students learn how to perform a wide variety of administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments, billing insurance companies, managing patient copays, and the filing and organization of patients dental records.
  • Radiography – Students are also taught how to set up a dental radiograph, prepare patients for an X-ray, and how to take, process, and support typical and specific types of dental X-rays.
  • Hygiene Promotion – Students will learn about the principles for proper oral hygiene and how to effectively promote their healthy habits and practices. Those who plan to work at the pediatric level of dental care can opt for courses that teach the best methods for educating children about oral hygiene, instructing children how to correctly brush and floss on their own, and communicating with parents regarding daily habits and routines for their children’s healthy gums and teeth.
  • Dental Anatomy – In a dental assistance degree program, students learn about the human anatomy of the mouth, teeth, and gums.
  • Periodontal Disease – As the primary objective of the entire dental profession is to prevent oral diseases and treat them if and when they do occur, dental assistance students are taught about the signs, symptoms, treatments, and prevention measures for periodontal disease.
  • Dental ceramics – Dental porcelain is instrumental in a wide variety of dental procedures such as implementing natural-looking bridges, crowns, and veneers. Pediatric dental assistant students will learn the ins and outs of preparing, using, and caring for dental ceramics.
  • Molding – During a dental assisting degree program, students learn the processes for molding, contouring, and waxing as these skills are necessary for taking accurate dental impressions.

What are the Requirements to Become a Pediatric Dental Assistant?

Educational Requirements

In order to become a pediatric dental assistant, candidates must first earn a high school diploma or GED. Next, candidates are required to complete a dental assisting educational program.

Taking anywhere from 11 months to 2 years to complete, the varying length for each type of dental assisting program is based on whether candidates are pursuing a simple certificate, an official Associate’s degree, and/or are taking classes part-time or full-time. Regardless of which education level is achieved, the program itself must nevertheless be accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

It should be noted, however, that the CODA does not differentiate between a traditional dental assistant and a pediatric dental assistant. Therefore, for those who wish to specialize in pediatric dentistry, they should select the appropriate elective courses to learn how to supervise, care for, and comfort dental patients who are children.

Licensure and Registration Requirements

The requirements for licensure and registration depend on which state a dental assistant will be practicing. For example, some states only ask that prospective dental assistants complete an accredited educational program and do not require professional certification. However, other states do require certifications by passing the Certified Dental Assistant examination or CDA. Some states even require pediatric dental assistants earn CPR certification before obtaining licensure.

Certification Requirements

The CDA exam is a 320-question test that can only be administered at a designated testing center. Candidates are examined over the policies and regulations for radiograph safety, the prevention, control, and treatment of oral infections, and the chairside customs and manners they should use inside an operatory room. The exam is comprised of a total of 900 points, but candidates are only required to score a minimum of 400 for certification. Depending upon the state, those who do not pass the CDA exam on their first attempt may be required to pursue further educational preparation, coursework, or complete an online training program prior to attempting the CDA again.

What Skills are Needed to be a Pediatric Dental Assistant?

  • Administrative Skills – As dental assistants are responsible for performing the majority of the administrative work for a dental practice, pediatric dental assistants should possess the necessary skills for working in an office. Specific tasks requiring these skills may include answering phone calls, making phone calls on behalf of the office, checking inventory, ordering supplies, scheduling appointments, and filing, managing, and retrieving patient dental records.
  • Computer Skills – As dental records are now kept electronically, pediatric dental assistants should have basic computer skills and a working knowledge of certain computer software. Specifically related to dental work, Eaglesoft and Dentrix are the two software programs most dental practices use to keep track of patients, records, and various documents and forms.
  • Technical Skills – Pediatric dental assistants are required to assist dentists during examinations and dental procedures, thus they should have the necessary technical skills in order to do so. A few examples of these skills might include the ability to anticipate and prepare for the sequential order of tasks according to procedure, radiography skills for taking and developing X-rays, reading blood pressure, and taking dental impressions.
  • Coordination – Pediatric dental assistants must be skilled at hand-eye coordination and possess control over the fine-motor movements in both hands.
  • Interpersonal Skills – Working with patients who are children requires pediatric dental assistants to possess age-appropriate interpersonal skills. They should be able to earn trust from both children and their parents, and comfort and distract children who are scared.
  • Thoroughness – As they are responsible for cleaning and sterilizing operating rooms and instruments, dental assistants should be thorough and possess skills required for paying close attention to small details that might seem insignificant to an untrained eye.
  • Speaking Skills – Pediatric dental assistants should be skilled at speaking as they are responsible for communicating with parents, educating parents and children, instructing children how to brush and floss, and motivating parents and children to implement the practices and routines necessary for good oral health and hygiene.
  • Organizational Skills – Pediatric dental assistants help facilitate the flow of customers in and out of a dental practice office. Therefore, they must possess great organizational skills such as the ability to prioritize and multitask.
  • Customer Service – Typically the first voice patients hear over the phone and the first face to greet them when they enter the office of a dental practice, pediatric dental assistants must possess the appropriate knowledge and skills required for providing excellent and helpful customer service.
  • Compliance – Much of the tasks pediatric dental assistants are responsible for are regulated by the American Dental Association and the state in which they practice. They should possess the ability to fully comply with every single policy and law implemented to ensure patient information is kept confidential and that infections are prevented.

How Much Does a Pediatric Dental Assistant Make?

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics does not differentiate between traditional dental assistants and those who specialize in pediatrics. Nevertheless, the median annual earning for dental assistants employed with the government was $41,180 as of May 2020.

For dental assistants who worked inside the office of a private practice, the median earning was $37,690 that year. And finally, those who were employed by physicians and worked within their private practices earned a median of $38,600 in 2020.

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