Pediatric Dental Assistant: Job Description and Requirements

Learn about the type of work a pediatric dental assistant performs. Discover what education and skills are necessary, and check the salary and job outlook to determine if this is the right career decision.

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Career Definition

Different states have varying regulations regarding what duties can be performed by a pediatric dentistry assistant, but greeting and tending to young patients and making them comfortable is of primary importance. Additional administrative duties in the dental office, sterilization and setup of dental tools, cleanup of the examination room and assisting the dentist in various procedures are also common responsibilities. In some states, allowable duties for a pediatric dental assistant can also include applying fluoride treatments, taking x-rays and advising patients on care of orthodontic appliances.

How to Become a Pediatric Dentistry Assistant

Required Education

The ADA makes no distinction between pediatric dental assistants and dental office assistants; therefore, the route to becoming a pediatric dental assistant is the same as for a dental office assistant. On-the-job training is one possibility, but a 6-month to 1-year training program through an accredited community college or trade school is the fastest way to become certified. Prospective pediatric dental assistants may take the test for certification upon successful completion of the training. Pediatric dental assistants who train on-the-job will have to work in a dental office for 2 years before they are allowed to test for certification. As of 2002, there were 255 accredited dental assistant training programs in the U.S., according to the website of the ADA (www.ada.org).

Skills Required

While the skills and knowledge needed to assist dentists are of great importance, a pediatric dental assistant, above all, needs a calm disposition and a talent for building rapport with young patients, who may be scared or anxious. In addition, pediatric dentistry assistants must be able to undertake the same duties as dental office assistants, such as following and, in some cases, establishing infection control protocols to prevent the transfer of infections from patient-to-staff or patient-to-patient.

Career and Economic Outlook

While there is no separate category for pediatric dentistry assistant, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job prospects for dental assistants are excellent, with much faster than average growth rates expected from 2012 to 2022. In part, this is because of the increase in demand for preventive services and the growth of dental practices. As of May 2012, wages for dental assistants varied greatly across the country, with the median annual wage being $34,500, according to the BLS (www.bls.gov).

Alternative Careers

Dental Hygienist

Those desiring more dental responsibilities such as cleaning teeth, taking x-rays and administering fluoride treatments should consider becoming a dental hygienist. Hygienists also inspect teeth and gums to diagnose problems, educate patients about teeth care and update dental records. Depending on the state, some hygienists can even fill cavities and perform other simple treatment procedures. An associate degree in dental hygiene is how most enter the field, and obtaining licensure is required in all states. In 2012, the BLS estimated that almost 193,000 dental hygienists were employed nationwide, and they earned a median wage of $70,210. Employment opportunities for these workers are projected to be excellent during the 2012-2022 decade, with 33% growth expected by the BLS.

Medical Assistant

If helping provide medical care to patients in a pediatric physician's office sounds more appealing than working in a dental office, becoming a medical assistant may be a better career choice. Medical assistants perform clerical duties that include answering phones, filling out insurance paperwork and scheduling appointments. They also interact with patients by taking vitals, asking health history questions, helping doctor's with exams and collecting samples for lab analysis. Certain medical assistant are also allowed to remove stitches and administer medications by injection.

To enter the profession, one must usually complete a medical assisting certificate program, although some may be hired with only a high school diploma. Licensure is not required, but obtaining professional certification could provide an advantage when seeking employment. According to BLS predictions, medical assistants should experience a 29% increase in job opportunities from 2012-2022. The BLS also determined that these assistants received median yearly compensation in 2012 equaling $29,370.

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