Dental Assistant: A Medical Career With Work/Life Balance

BarbaraName: Barbara and Megan
Occupation: Dental Assistant
Date of Interview: October 30, 2014

When Barbara got pregnant with her daughter at the age of 15, she quit high school and moved to Alaska where she found a job as a bank teller. At the time, “you didn’t need much qualification other than a character reference” says Barbara. However, not having a high school diploma bothered her, so after a few months of working at the bank, she got her GED to set an example for Megan.


With her new qualification, Barbara started looking for a different job and before long was hired by a friend’s dentist as a dental assistant. While receiving on the job training, she realized that the new job was a great choice for her. She spent the next 24 years in the dental industry in various positions. She not only set a good example for Megan, who followed in her mom’s footsteps to become a dental assistant, but she also enjoys a special bond with Megan through their shared profession.


A dental assistant’s duties include prepping the patient and equipment, taking x-rays, administering treatment, taking impressions, record-keeping, teaching patients about procedures and oral hygiene, and more. Enjoying hands-on work and staying calm in unexpected situations are huge pluses. Going to the dentist is an uncomfortable or even terrifying experience for many people and making them feel comfortable is a big part of the job. Barbara stresses that you need to genuinely care about people to find satisfaction in this career.

The education requirement has changed since Barbara first started out. So we asked Megan about the new standards. “State qualifications vary”, explains Megan. “Some states require you to have a diploma with some experience, while others also require you to pass the Dental Assisting National Board licensing exam, and still others have their own exams” she elaborates. (Check your state requirement at DANB at

The quality of instruction varies widely among schools so make sure the program you go for is accredited by the American Dental Association. Reputable programs generally offer hands-on training with opportunities for externships. We asked her how to quickly tell if a program is good, “Generally speaking, colleges that advertise more [are the ones] you should stay away from” she answered.


With multiple online colleges and diploma mills popping up, Megan also warns against the ones offering courses to help get the DANB certification. Being a technical exam, it is hard to excel at it without in-person lecturing and hands-on training. While study guides are helpful, they won’t go the distance and a course at your local community college is well worth the investment.

With an aging population who tend to have more dental care needs, the employment outlook is excellent for dental assistants. Working conditions are great as well since most dental assistants are employed full-time during the day and the culture tends to be more harmonious than hierarchical. Dental technology changes fast so dental assistants must continuously educate themselves to stay current. Career growth options into supervisory positions, Expanded Function Dental Assistants (EFDA), and teaching positions are available. Many former dental assistants also work as sales executives in the dental industry or work for insurance companies.

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