Dental Assistant Skills List and Examples

Little boy having oral checkup
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Dental assistants are an important part of a dental practice and perform a variety of tasks, from assisting directly in patient care, to office work. Dental assistants differ from dental hygienists in that the latter do much more unsupervised work with patients.

Dental Assistant Job Responsibilities

Assistants sometimes perform polishing, or explain proper dental hygiene to patients, but most of their patient contact occurs working beside the dentist during procedures that require an extra pair of hands.

Dental assistants also prep examination areas, clean up after procedures, sterilize equipment, and order supplies.

Some states require that dental assistants obtain certification, usually through two- or three-semester-long training programs. Other states do not require certification, and dental assistants may train on the job. Some dental assistants go on to receive further training, to become dental hygienists, or even dentists, but it is possible to spend a career as an assistant. Job prospects are generally strong, and pay can be good.

How to Use Skills Lists

The following list of skills is not exhaustive, but should give you an idea of what employers expect from incoming dental assistants. If your state does not require certification or specialized training, you can use the list to help organize your application materials and to help prepare for your interview, although you should also speak to people who work in dental offices to get a first-hand description of what the job entails.

You can also review our list of skills by job and type of skill.

Whether your state allows direct entry into the field or not, you can use this list to help determine whether a job as a dental assistant is a good match for you. Again, it is best to talk to someone with experience in the field before making a final decision.

Top Skills Dental Assistants Need

Administrative Skills
Dental assistants may have a great deal of office work. Tasks include interviewing patients and conducting intake, scheduling appointments, creating and maintaining records, and ordering supplies. This aspect of the job is similar to other office staff positions and requires most of the same skills, such as attention to detail, excellent oral and written communication, and basic computer skills. Advanced IT skills can help, as can the ability to speak multiple languages. 

Unlike other office workers, dental assistants need at least a basic understanding of dental medicine so as to understand the content of documents and forms, and familiarity with dental software such as Eaglesoft or Dentrix.

Technical Skills
Although dental assistants seldom work with patients unsupervised, they still must be knowledgeable about dental medicine, so as to be able to anticipate the sequence of tasks in complex dental procedures. Dental assistants also must be able to take X-rays, blood pressure readings, and dental impressions, prepare dental materials, maintain equipment, and disinfect rooms and tools.

All of these tasks require attention to detail, the ability to follow strict protocols, critical thinking skills, and good judgment.

All dental assistants must also be able to recognize the signs of a dental emergency and are legally required to have current CPR certification.

Physical Abilities
While being a dental assistant is not known as a physically demanding job, it does require the stamina to remain on task for hours at a time and the strength to help move disabled patients into and out of the examination chair. Excellent hand-eye coordination is required, which means not only good (or well-corrected) vision, but also excellent fine-motor control in both hands.

A dental assistant may not be color-blind, because fine differences of color can be important clinical signs. Good (or well-corrected) hearing in at least one ear is also important, again because some clinical signs are auditory.

Interpersonal Abilities
Dental assistants must maintain a professional appearance and demeanor at all times.

They must work well on a team with the other members of the dental practice and must be sensitive to the needs of patients - including the fact that many patients are terrified of dentists. Customer service skills are an important dimension of being a dental assistant. Honest and ethical behavior is critical, including the ability to maintain proper confidentiality.

Dental Assistant Skills List

A - C
Administering Fluoride
Anticipating Sequence of Dental Procedures
Applying Bleaching Agents
Applying Sealants
Attention to Detail
Basic Computer
Building Rapport
Complying with Protocols and Standards
Conducting Patients Intake
Conserving  Dental Materials
Customer Service

D - I
Developing and Mounting Dental Radiographs
Disinfecting Rooms and Equipment
Ensuring Accuracy of Charts
Foreign Language
Hand Eye Coordination
Handling Equipment with Care
Instructing Patients 
Interviewing Patients

L - P
Maintaining Confidentiality
Maintaining Equipment
Maintaining Infection Control Barriers
Manual Dexterity
Monitoring and Ordering Supplies
Motivating Patients
Placing Temporary Crowns
Preparing Dental Materials According to Specifications

R - V

Reassuring Nervous Patients
Recognizing Signs of Dental Emergency
Scheduling Appointments
Setting Up and Breaking Down Operatory
Taking Dental Impressions
Taking Dental Radiographs
Taking Blood Pressure

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