13 Pros and Cons of Being a Dental Assistant
Written By: Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Are you interested to make a living helping people smile? As a dental assistant, you can provide the necessary treatment and follow-up care for patients. Being a dental assistant can be a rewarding and challenging job. It requires compassion, patience, and the ability to multitask, but just like other professions out there, you will have pros and cons to the job. Do you know what are the pros and cons of being a dental assistant? If you do not, don’t worry. Below you will find the top 13 pros and cons of being a dental assistant. These pros and cons will help you make the decision if this career is right for you.
What is a Dental Assistant?
A dental assistant is an allied health professional who assists in providing patient care in dentistry. The role of a Dental Assistant is to provide clinical support to dentists and other dental team members in order to maintain optimal oral health for their patients. Dental assistants work under the supervision of a dentist and other dental professionals such as dental hygienists. As a dental assistant, you must follow the treatment guides or protocols your supervising dental professionals have set out for you. Dental assistants can be found working both in private practices and public institutions such as schools, prisons, and nursing homes to name a few.
TOP CONS OF BEING A DENTAL ASSISTANT
(The following are the top 13 disadvantages of being a Dental Assistant.)
1. You will need to complete the required training to enter this field.
In order to become a dental assistant, you will need to attend a school offering courses in dental assisting. It would be best if you were sure that the program of your choice is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA
) and offers an externship. It's important to note that you will not be able to receive your diploma if you fail to complete your externship, so it is wise to choose a school with a reputable extern program. Dental assistant programs can last anywhere from 9 months to 2 years, depending on if you choose to attend a vocational school or a community college. You will need to determine which educational path is right for you. Having different entry points into this career is one of the factors to take note of while analyzing the pros and cons of being a dental assistant. Each entry point into this career will have an advantage and its own set of disadvantages. I guess you did not know that it would take that long to get out there and work as a dental assistant.
2. The cost of your training
You know that saying, "Nothing in life is free." Well, this can definitely be said about dental assistant training. Many people dream of becoming a dental assistant but don't think about the cost of school before they get started. Dental assistant schooling can and will cost you a considerable amount of money. A vocational program
will cost you anywhere from $1,000 to $7,000. If you choose to complete your education at a college, you will pay around $15,000 to $20,000 for your education. For example, Florida Career College
will cost you about $20,500 for an associate's degree as a dental assistant. Wow, that is pricey.
3. You will be in close proximity to patients.
As a dental assistant, you will be in close proximity to patients and their mouths. Being this close to a stranger is one of the top disadvantages of being a dental assistant. Some people may not be comfortable with how close you have to be to them, and you may not be comfortable with your proximity to your patients. So, if being close to strangers does not make you feel comfortable, then maybe dental assisting is not for you.
4. You could be exposed to pathogens.
One of the workplace hazards of being a dental assistant is being exposed to infectious diseases
that your patients may have. You may get sick from these germs or get others sick by passing on the pathogens you encounter. You are also working closely in a patient's mouth, which can lead to the potential that you could contract infections such as the flu, covid-19, hepatitis, and herpes to name a few.
5. You will have to clean up body fluid.
So, I hope you have a strong stomach because one of your job duties as a dental assistant will be to clean
dental equipment contaminated with blood and pus. Can you even imagine scraping of all that dried blood and pus? Having to clean these contaminated instruments is definitely one of the biggest disadvantages of being a dental assistant. The equipment needs to be disinfected after every patient uses it so that there will not be an infection or cross-contamination from other patients, and it looks like this is going to be your job.
6. You will not have much autonomy.
As a dental assistant, you will not have autonomy over your day or over how to manage patients. You will work under to direction of the dentist and dental hygienist. I can see how a lot of conflicts can arise in the workplace if you are too headstrong. So, if you do not like to be told what to do, this is not the job for you.
7. You may have to work on a weekend.
Depending on where you work, weekends may never be the same again. You may be required to work Saturdays and Sundays, or even both. Having to work weekends is one of the cons of being a dental assistant. This can be a real problem if you want to go out with friends on the weekends, attend events and activities or catch up on your favorite TV shows. How is someone supposed to balance working full-time and having a social life?
8. You may have to work evenings.
As a dental assistant, you may have to work evenings. You may also have to leave work late at times because of an emergency appointment or a patient requiring more assistance than initially estimated. Some dentists you may work for may have later hours of operation to accommodate their working patients. It is not uncommon to find yourself leaving work at 8 pm or later some days.
9. Exposure to x-rays
One of the most common health hazards besides pathogens that you will be exposed to as a dental assistant is x-rays
. X-Rays are harmful if you are exposed to them in large quantities. There is also a minimal chance that x-rays can cause congenital disabilities. X-rays are known to cause cancer if you are overexposed. X-Rays can damage the human reproductive cells and change DNA, making it more likely for a person to develop cancer in one of their organs. Exposure to X-rays is one of the top drawbacks you have to take into account while analyzing the pros and cons of being a dental assistant.
10. You will not be challenged that often
One of the most frustrating things about being a dental assistant is that, after you've done something ten thousand times, you can't help but feel like it's just another day. Your days will be repetitive with the same tasks over and over again. You will not be challenged. While the idea of a career in dentistry may be exciting at first, once you become a dental assistant, you will find that it's just another day. Your repetitive day is one of the points to consider while evaluating the pros and cons of being a dental assistant. Sure, your day may be boring, but it will be very stress-free.
11. You will not be making big bucks
So, if you thought that being a dental assistant meant you would be making big bucks, think again! The average salary
for a dental assistant in the United States is around $41,180 per year. That is really not that much in comparison to some other health care careers. You also need to evaluate if you can afford your lifestyle on such a minimum salary.
12. You may encounter unpleasant patients
One of the downsides to being a dental assistant is that you may encounter some pretty unpleasant patients. Just ask any dental professional when was the last time they had a nightmare patient, and you will probably receive a few eye rolls. So, if you are somebody who can handle having people scream in your face, complain about everything you do, and generally act ungrateful, then I guess you could try this career path, but I promise you, you will not be happy for long.
13. You may have to be computer savvy
So, if you are somebody who can barely turn on a computer, then the road to being a dental assistant may not be for you. One of the disadvantages of being a dental assistant is that you will be expected to be able to navigate computer charting systems and operate electronic equipment. This may just be too much for you. If you are not comfortable using equipment like this, it might be best to reconsider your career choice.
TOP PROS OF BEING A DENTAL ASSISTANT
(The following are the top 13 advantages of being a Dental Assistant.)
1. Your training will not be that long.
One of the advantages of being a dental assistant is that the training period is relatively short compared to other healthcare professions. You can have a career in as little as one year. This means that you will soon be able to get out there and start working. You will be able to start earning an income and learn new skills at the same time.
2. You will be able to complete some of your training online.
One great perk to becoming a dental assistant is that you have the capability of completing some of your training online
. By taking the time to complete your dental assistant training online, you can save money on tuition. You will also have the convenience of being able to manage your schedule around your training
. Lastly, by completing your training online, you can keep working and supporting yourself and your family while you learn.
3. You will have a positive job outlook.
As a dental assistant, you're right in the middle of one of the fastest-growing fields out there. The job growth for a dental assistant is expected to grow by 11%
by 2030. This job growth is faster than most other fields, making this an excellent time to pursue a job as a dental assistant. Additionally, the demand for qualified candidates in this field is expected to continue to grow, creating more opportunities for you. Qualified candidates are likely to find excellent job prospects in the coming decade.
4. You will work in a relatively clean environment.
One of the most significant advantages of working as a dental assistant is that you will be working in a clean environment. Working in a clean environment is one of the pros of being a dental assistant. If given a choice, most people would pick working for a clean environment over a dirty one. Although it may seem like a small detail, working in a clean environment is a privilege you should be grateful for. Working for a clean environment has many benefits, from increased morale to healthier employees with fewer germs and viruses running through their bodies. There are also economic benefits to working in a clean environment that many people don't realize, such as increased productivity and lower absenteeism.
5. Your job will not have a great deal of stress.
As a dental assistant, you will find that your days are not stressful. You will be taking x-rays, organizing appointments, and meeting with patients to discuss their dental health. You will not have to be dealing with life or death situations, just teeth. I mean, you get to go home and relax instead of replaying the dramatics of your horrible, stressful day.
6. There are ways to increase your salary.
As a dental assistant, you will find that there are some ways to increase your salary. Some of these ways can be done without too much effort which is one of the biggest advantages of being a dental assistant, and others will take a bit more time and effort. You can increase your salary by earning your Dental Assistant National Board Certification (DANB
). These credits are earned by taking an exam after completing a course on dental assisting. Another way to increase your salary is to become certified in CPR, which can also be earned through DANB.
7. You can have the option of a flexible schedule.
Having a flexible schedule is definitely a perk of the dental assisting business. Flexible scheduling is definitely something many assistants appreciate. Dental assistants do not have to worry about finding child care or last-minute plans with friends; they can take their time scheduling appointments and errands around everything else.
8. You will have the option for career advancement.
Like most dental assistants, it may be time to take your career to the next level. By taking schooling courses, you can become a dental hygienist or a dental laboratory technician in just two years. If you hold the proper certifications, you could jump into an even more desirable position. Another way you could advance your career as a dental assistant is to become an educator. You would be able to teach the next generation of dental assistants.
9. You could work in different specialties.
Your knowledge and skills as a dental assistant can allow you to choose from many different areas of specialty. Some of the most popular and common specialty fields that you could pursue include oral surgery, periodontics, orthodontics, prosthodontics, maxillofacial surgery, periodontology, pediatric dentistry, preventive dentistry, and community dentistry. One of the top pros of being a dental assistant is that there are so many different paths you can choose when it comes to specializing as a dental assistant.
10. You can have a job anywhere in the United States
As a dental assistant, you can work anywhere in the United States. In each state, you will find that there is always a job waiting for you. It is so easy to find a job
as a dental assistant because you can work in any field of dentistry. So basically, if you feel that you want to move to a different state, you can. Your job is that versatile.
11. Not all States will require that you hold a license to work
Not every state that you could work in as a dental assistant requires you to hold a license. This means that you can begin working without passing an exam in some states. One of the points that you need to think about while evaluating the pros and cons of being a dental assistant is that there is no uniform regulation across the board for this career. This could be good and bad for you. It is good if you want to get out there and work right away but on the other hand, it will make it difficult if you move to another state or want to work in neighboring states that are regulated differently. According to the American Dental Assistants Association, there are 19 states without licensure requirements for dental assistants including Arizona, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Alabama, Louisiana, and New Hampshire. Montana requires registration instead of licensure. Two states require licenses but do not require you to pass exams before becoming licensed. Oregon and New Jersey require you to either pass an exam or present proof of training within two years of licensure. Some states have licensing requirements for dental assistants but don't require exams to enter the workforce. These states include South Carolina, Colorado, Virginia, Washington, and Tennessee.
12. You can become certified
As a dental assistant, you will have the opportunity to become certified. Beyond having more opportunities for advancement, some reasons to be certified are that it can make you feel good about yourself and may even earn you a raise. Another reason to become certified is that it allows an opportunity to participate in continuing education courses that provide valuable information related to the industry. This may lead you to higher quality care for patients and a better understanding of your position. As we talked about earlier, you can earn the DANB certification. Other certifications that can be achieved are the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA), National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA
), Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA
), and Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA
) certification separate from the DANB.
13. You will help patients feel more confident.
When you become a dental assistant, you are not only helping other people, but you also make others feel more confident about their smiles. Helping people feel good about themselves is one of the top advantages of being a dental assistant. If someone is not satisfied with their smile, it could be because they do not like the shape or color of their teeth or that even though they keep up on oral hygiene, they still get cavities. Becoming a dental assistant means you help your patients understand why they need to be in the dentist's chair every six months. You help your patients to know what they need to do to take care of their teeth better. You will make people feel good about themselves because you will explain everything they need to know about dental hygiene, and you will help them get their smiles back.
The Bottom Line
So, what are the pros and cons of being a dental assistant? If you are considering becoming a dental assistant, it is essential to know the pros and cons of this job. The pros and cons of becoming a dental assistant I’m sure did not seem obvious before reading this article, but it's important to know what these pros and cons might entail before making your decision! The top 13 pros and cons of being a dental assistant that I have presented to you will definitely help you decide if this career is right for you.
Jennifer Schlette MSN, RN
Jennifer Schlette is a registered nurse in pediatric critical care in New York City. She is the former Director of Undergraduate Nursing at a college located in New York. After obtaining her BSN from the College of Mount Saint Vincent, she went on to complete her MSN.