The Pros And Cons Of Being A Dental Assistant

Updated: May 23

Are you considering whether you should be a dental assistant? There are many benefits to doing so but just be aware of the cons as well!


Dental assistant assisting dentist
Dental assistant assisting dentist

Table of Contents:


Is becoming a dental assistant a good job?

According to U.S.News, they are ranked as the 25th best health care support job. Their day to day activities involve a mix of clinical patient care along with some administrative work so they get to experience a wide variety of work. It can get exhausting having to directly face and take care of patients all the time so it is great that they can step away at times by doing some desk work.


Here is a list of clinical skills of assistants.

  • Taking dental x rays.

  • Taking impressions.

  • Practice four handed dentistry and assisting the dentist side by side.

  • Direct patient contact and also the ability to support the patients emotionally and psychologically during treatment.

  • Laboratory work including pouring up stone models and making whitening trays.

  • Some assistants can even make temporary crowns.

  • Orthodontic assistants can get very involved with putting on brackets and wires for braces.

Here is a list of non-clinical responsibilities of assistants.

  • Ordering and maintaining supplies.

  • Scheduling appointments.

  • Taking phone calls from patients.

  • Managing the lab cases.

  • Billing and insurance claims.

  • Maintaining the office cleanliness.

As you can see, they have a very large mix of day to day tasks but for the most part, they are usually right by the doctor's side. Although if a team member happens to call out sick, they can jump into any other role as support.


Aside from the responsibilities, one big perk of being a dental assistant is significantly less school loans. In fact, the only requirement to be a registered dental assistant is just a high school diploma or G.E.D. The tuition to become one varies by state but the range could be from $850-$7,560 according to vocationaltraininghq.

  • That is to become a registered assistant but most assistants can start out without becoming certified. Some dental offices are willing to train someone completely new with no background to become a full fledged assistant. Then usually if they decide that they like it, they can go take the examination to become licensed.

Last but not least, compensation wise, this career has a median salary of $41,180 in 2020 according to USNEWS. The unemployment rate is 10.8% with approximately 36,900 jobs currently.


How many hours do dental assistants work?

A pro to becoming one is that you do get very flexible work hours. Their work schedule is usually dictated by how much the dentist wants to work and in most parts of the country, a lot of dentists are only open about 4 days a week. A lot of dental assistants work less than 40 hours per week. There are also a lot of part time options as well so it makes for a good job for those who wish to spend more time with their families.


Assistants that work in large metropolitan cities may have to work more since the industry is more competitive in a densely populated city.



The down sides to becoming an assistant.

The one singular con to becoming a dental assistant is that there isn't a job title after becoming registered. A registered assistant, RDA, is the peak of the career path. Most corporate jobs give you a long ladder to climb but the one for assistants isn't very long.


That is not to say that dental assistants can't grow because they can continually learn more skills and do a lot more clinical work as they get more comfortable. They can become what we call an expanded functions dental assistant, EFDA. These are much more senior members of the team and they are usually considered as the head assistant in a dental practice.


An often glossed over con to becoming a dental assistant is that it can be hard and stressful. This has more to do with if you happen to be working with a very demanding dentist. Having to assist a doctor like that can be very stressful and they can make your life hard in return. This is why it is important to find a practice with a good culture because it can be an easy job if you do find the right fit.



Should you become one?

We believe that becoming a dental assistant is worth it! Yes, there is a limit on their career ladder but you just have to think a little bit outside of the box. Most assistants that come in actually grow and flourish to become so much more. Many of them move on to becoming dental hygienists, nurses, and even dentists!


If you want an example, Dr David Chen, actually started out as a dental assistant and worked as one full time for two years before going off to dental school. If that wasn't enough, one of our root canal specialists and also Dr. Chen's mentor while he was an assistant also started the same way. Now, ten years later we've opened up our own dental practice right here in Long Island City. So yes the possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Being a dental assistant is a good job.

132 views
David Chen 200 x 200.jpg

About the author: Dr David Chen, DDS

Hello, I'm Dr Chen and I'm an actively practicing dentist in Long Island City, NY. I graduated from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine in 2016 but prior to going to dental school I was already working in the dental field. It's been more than a decade since I first got to know dentistry and let me tell you, time flies by quickly. Since then I've developed a fondness for writing, which is how this all got started!

Association Memberships:

Medical Disclaimer:

This blog is purely meant for information purposes and should not be used as medical advice. Each situation in your mouth is unique and complex. It is not possible to give advice nor diagnose any oral conditions based on text nor virtual consultations. The best thing to do is to go in person to see your dentist for an examination and consultation so that you can receive the best care possible.

The purpose of all of this oral health information is to encourage you to see your dentist and to inform you of what you may expect during your visit. Due to the unfortunate nature of dentistry, there isn't really any true home remedies that will get rid of dental problems. Roughly 99.99% of them require in-person intervention by a healthcare professional.

Hint: That is the reason why you can't eliminate seeing dentists in your life!