Registered dental assistants work alongside dentists to provide dental care for patients. Their duties are a mix of patient care, laboratory procedures, and clerical work. Exact responsibilities vary from state to state due to licensing requirements. Some patient-care tasks include setting up and sterilizing instruments, handing instruments to the dentist, preparing the patient for treatment, and educating patients on proper dental care. Many registered dental assistants also process dental x-rays, expose radiography, and perform lab duties such as making teeth casts and temporary crowns. Finally, registered dental assistants frequently work in administrative capacity. This includes scheduling appointments, maintaining patient records, and processing patient bills and payments.
Typically registered dental assistants work in private dental offices. In this environment, they work directly with a dentist, dental hygienists, and dental laboratory technicians. Some dental offices only have four-day work weeks (Monday-Thursday), and many registered dental assistants work during regular business hours. Registered dental assistants can also work in hospitals, dental schools, or clinics; these environments may have varied schedules and hours. Registered dental assistants can work full time or part time, depending on the position.
The exact education and licensint required to become a registered dental assistant varies from state to state. There is a national certification awarded to those who pass the Certified Dental Assistant examination. To be eligible to take this exam, a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation must be completed. Many of these programs exist nationwide; they are offered at many community colleges, vocational schools, or technical institutes and typically take less than a year to complete. Some states have specific state licenses or additional licenses (such as a dental x-ray license). Many positions also require a current CPR certificate.
Many skills are needed to become a successful registered dental assistant. Excellent interpersonal skills are needed to comfort anxious dental patients. Also needed are great organizational skills, a keen attention to detail, good manual dexterity, and be able to work well with a team.
Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) Tasks
- Take and develop patient x-rays, including digital (if certified).
- Sterilize instruments and equipment.
- Teach patients how to practice good oral hygiene.
- Assist dentist during dental treatment procedures.
- Maintain office records and supplies and schedule appointments.