Dentists are not the only ones who make a living out of making people smile.
Dental assistants, who support dentists in providing dental treatment, also make a huge impact on the wellbeing of patients and the success of the dental team.
Being a dental assistant is not easy, but it can be incredibly fun and rewarding.
The job requires a great deal of patience and compassion, and you need to be able to multitask.
However, like all other professions out there, dental assisting comes with its own set of perks and drawbacks.
Below you will see the top pros and cons of being a dental assistant, which can help you decide if this career path is right for you.
Article Table of Contents
- 1 Pros of Being a Dental Assistant
- 2 Cons of Being a Dental Assistant
- 3 Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Assistant – Summary Table
- 4 Should You Become a Dental Assistant?
Pros of Being a Dental Assistant
Dental assistant training only lasts 9-11 months, depending on the program, making it a lot shorter than other professions in healthcare.
This means you can jumpstart your dental assistant career in as little as one year.
You will start earning income and learning new skills as soon as you hit the floor.
In addition, many programs allow you to complete part of your training online.
Not only is this more convenient than in-person training, but it has also come cost-effective.
Positive job prospects
Dental assisting is one of the fastest-growing jobs right now.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of jobs is expected to grow by 11% by 2030.
That is a lot faster than most other professions, so this might be a better time than ever to pursue a career as a dental assistant.
Because of the growing demand for dental assistants, you can rest assured that there will always be available jobs, no matter where you are in the US.
Dental assistants are to dentists as nurses are to doctors.
And because dental assistants are not as responsible for the dental management of patients as dentists are, they do not have to deal with a lot of stress.
A typical day for dental assistants may involve arranging appointments, taking x-rays, and giving patients an overview of their dental health.
They do not have to make life-or-death decisions, and they can just sign off and go home after their shift without really worrying about the long-term implications of their decisions.
Ability to work anywhere in the US
Because dental assistants are in growing demand all over the US, they can work in almost any location.
According to Zippia, the three best states for dental assistants right now are Minnesota, Oregon, and Alaska.
Dental assistants in these states earn considerably more than their counterparts in other states and have overall better career prospects.
That said, dental assistant jobs are available everywhere, and you should work in a location that ticks all your boxes, not just income-earning potential.
Opportunities to get certified
Reasons to get certified as a dental assistant include being able to advance in your career, earning a raise, and just becoming a better, more competent dental assistant.
Becoming certified also opens doors to taking continuing education courses and learning valuable industry-related skills and information.
You can earn certification through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), a nationally recognized certification body for dental assistants.
Reasonably clean environment
Although this may seem like a very small advantage, working in a clean environment actually has a host of benefits.
These include better physical health, increased productivity, less chance of sickness, and higher levels of morale and happiness.
Besides, nobody wants to work in a dirty or unpleasant-looking environment.
Generally, because dental offices always have to be clean and spotless, dental assistants do not really have to worry about filth and untidiness in the workplace.
Of course, dental assistants do have to contribute to the cleanliness and organization of the office, but this aspect of the work is quite easy, manageable, and stress-free.
Besides training flexibility (e.g., online vs. in-person options), dental assisting also offers flexible working hours.
Although dental offices are usually open during regular work hours on weekdays, some provide early morning, late evening, and weekend appointments.
Dental assistants can choose which shifts they will be working, and they can also decide whether they will be working on a part-time or full-time basis.
Cons of Being a Dental Assistant
High cost of training
Dental assistant training may be relatively short compared to that of other healthcare professions, but some people may consider the training to be quite expensive.
While vocational programs can cost anywhere between 1k and 7k, college dental assistant programs can cost about $15k to $25k.
For example, the associate’s degree program for dental assistants at Florida Career College costs $20,500, making it a pretty hefty investment.
Exposure to pathogens
Dental assistants may work in mostly clean environments, but that does not mean they are not exposed to pathogens and infectious diseases.
Because they are working on patients’ mouths, they run the risk of getting sick from germs and spreading pathogens to other people.
Infections that dental assistants can contract include the flu, hepatitis B, herpes, and COVID-19.
Lack of autonomy
If you do not like receiving instructions or being told what to do, being a dental assistant may not be for you.
As someone who has to work under the direction of a dentist, a dental assistant does not have autonomy over their day, nor can they manage patients.
If you are a headstrong individual who values freedom and independence in the workplace, you might be better suited for another career.
Possibility of weekend shifts
In general, dental offices operate during regular business hours on weekdays.
However, some of them operate outside of regular office hours, offering late night, early morning, and weekend appointments.
Although dental assistants generally can choose which shifts they take on, sometimes offices are short-staffed and need employees to fill in during off-hours.
But there certainly are advantages of working off-hours, including increased pay.
Radiation risk from X-rays
When you expose yourself to large amounts of X-ray radiation, you increase your chances of developing congenital disabilities and cancer.
X-rays can also damage your reproductive cells and alter your DNA.
That said, X-ray machines are no more dangerous than other pieces of dental equipment.
As long as they wear protective clothing, maintain a reasonable distance from the X-ray machine, and keep their exposure time to a minimum, dental assistants do not have to worry too much about the negative effects of X-ray radiation.
Dental assistants make an average salary of $41,180 per year.
Compared to other healthcare professions, this is nothing to brag about.
However, dental assistant training is reasonably short, especially compared to that of dentists, who need 8 years of postsecondary education.
Vocational training for dental assistants only lasts 9-11 months, so you can start working and earning money as soon as one year after starting your dental assistant training.
If you do not want a long period of training and education and just want to hit the ground running, you may want to consider becoming a dental assistant.
Potentially unpleasant patients
Like every other healthcare career, dental assisting is not without its challenges, and these include unpleasant patients.
Negative encounters may include hearing complaints, being screamed at, and not cooperating during dental procedures.
Thankfully, there are ways to prevent or alleviate bad situations, such as practicing active listening, reassuring the patient, and treating the patient with respect.
Sure, it may be difficult to respect a patient who is throwing obscenities at you, but if you keep your cool and behave appropriately, you will be much better off in the long run.
Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Assistant – Summary Table
|Pros of Being a Dental Assistant||Cons of Being a Dental Assistant|
|Limited training||High cost of training|
|Positive job prospects||Exposure to pathogens|
|Manageable stress||Lack of autonomy|
|Ability to work anywhere in the US||Possibility of weekend shifts|
|Opportunities to get certified||Radiation risk from X-rays|
|Reasonably clean environment||Lower pay
|Flexibility ||Potentially unpleasant patients|
Should You Become a Dental Assistant?
Dentists are not the only ones running the show in the world of dentistry.
Dental assistants, too, play a huge role in maintaining patients’ dental health.
Although the job is far from being easy, dental assisting is a fun and fulfilling career that offers a plethora of benefits.
While some people opt for this career because of the short training time and flexible working hours, others choose to become dental assistants because of the positive job prospects, availability of jobs all over the US, and opportunities for advancement with the help of certification programs.
Of course, anyone considering a certain career path should consider both its advantages and disadvantages, and dental assisting is no exception.
Drawbacks of being a dental assistant include lack of workplace autonomy, exposure to pathogens and X-ray radiation, lower pay (compared to other healthcare professions), and some unpleasant patients.
That said, the benefits of being a dental assistant far outweigh the disadvantages for many, and, if this is the case for you, you should begin researching dental training assistant programs and putting yourself on a path to career success.