What does a dental assistant do?

A dental assistant’s day is spent ensuring all treatment areas are sterile, organised and prepared for the dentist to treat patients. This entails sterilisation of equipment, putting bibs on patients and positioning tools and equipment within the dentist’s reach as required. A dental assistant may also assist with developing X-rays, as well as pouring, trimming, and polishing casts. Dental assistants also educate patients on oral hygiene, plaque and tartar removal and control, and provide instructions for post-operative care. They work as part of a team within a variety of dental practices, speciality clinics and hospitals.

Tasks:

  • Greeting patients and settling them in dentist’s chair
  • Use of dental technology
  • Maintaining dental supply inventory
  • Suctioning during dental procedures
  • Placing dental equipment in patient’s mouth

What skills do I need to be a dental assistant?

Dental assistants must have successfully completed the relevant qualifications in dental health maintenance. Key skills required to be successful in the role include a professional yet caring bedside manner, a solid work ethic, confidence in operating specialised dental equipment, and the ability and willingness to work long hours often on your feet. As the role requires close physical contact with patients, impeccable personal hygiene and good communication skills are essential. The role requires exceptional attention to detail, and the ability to quickly and efficiently follow instructions.

Skills/attributes
  • Dedication to patient care
  • Good hand-eye co-ordination
  • Exceptional personal hygiene
  • Ability to follow detailed instructions
  • Ability to communicate with dental practitioners and patients

Specialisations

Becoming a dental assistant is a stepping-stone to many different career paths. Tailor your studies and training to help you find fulfilment in your professional work. Below are some popular dentistry careers, though there are many more related roles that can be pursued in healthcare.

Dental Hygienist

Dental hygienists work as part of a team to assist general dental practitioners in teeth cleaning and oral care check-ups. They advise patients on preventative care such as better brushing techniques, flossing and general oral hygiene and maintenance. As part of the cleaning process, they use various dental tools to remove plaque, tartar and stains, administer fluoride treatments, polish teeth, and assist with X-rays of a patient's mouth.

Sales and Marketing Manager

Those with experience in dental hygiene are sought after by oral hygiene product and service companies to work on marketing campaigns. The work requires further tertiary study and the role’s key responsibilities include building customer relationships, identifying the market and customer needs and wants, as well as arranging and attending trade exhibitions.

Editor/Author

Dental professionals with the relevant experience and tertiary qualifications can apply their skills to working on trade publications, journals, textbooks or websites designed to inform and educate the dental profession on current issues, techniques and research. This position requires writing and editing skills and you must also be deadline-driven, creative and have exceptional attention to detail.

Consultant

Consultants are typically dental hygienists who deliver educational courses or on-site dental practice presentations to dental professionals. As professional speakers, dental companies may employ them as educational consultants, who develop educational material and present it to healthcare professionals and the public.

Study pathways for dental assistants

There are opportunities for employment in the dental industry at many levels, from entry-level positions requiring vocational training to specialised study for those pursuing high-level roles within dentistry.

Getting Started

These vocational courses will allow you to join the dental profession in an entry-level role, requiring supervision from senior staff.

Skill Building

Study for career advancement. Qualify as a dental hygienist or pursue a career specialisation.

Professional Development

These study options will enable you to pursue high-level employment options requiring extensive qualification or specialisation in a particular field.

Industry Recognition

Australian dental assistants must register with the Dental Hygienists' Association of Australia (DHAA) after successful completion of the relevant qualifications.

Getting a job after graduation

Get your dental career off to a flying start and fast track your way into a job you’ll love. Emphasise your professional qualifications and use your cover letter to address why you’re the best candidate for the job.

Job Prospects and Salaries

With more people than ever maintaining their natural teeth throughout their lives, dental assistants are in high demand and it is one of the fastest growing occupations in Australia. There is currently a shortage of dental assistants so employment opportunities are plentiful.