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Dental Assistant

Dental assistants (sometimes known as dental nurses or dental chairside assistants) are key members of the dental health care team. They work with dentists and other members of the oral health team to deliver high quality dental care in dental offices. Qualified dental assistants, with further study, can also advance through other dental auxiliary roles such as a dental hygienist or dental technician and prosthetist. With tertiary qualifications you could also train to become a dentist.

Overview

  • What is a dental assistant?

    Dental assistants, also known as dental nurses or dental chairside assistants, are important members of the dental health care team. They greatly increase the efficiency in dental offices and assist dentists and other clinician members of the oral health team to deliver high quality dental care.

    A dental assistant career would be a good dentistry entry position for you if you have good communication skills and enjoy working with people. In addition, if you enjoy working with your hands as well as your mind and want a dental job with responsibility then dental assisting would be an ideal career choice for you.

  • What do dental assistants do?

    A dental assistant’s role includes a variety of duties that are focused on infection control, management and support for the flow of efficiency in the delivery of dental health services by the clinicians. The dentist is the primary clinician that the dental assistant will work closely with, however there is an increased utilisation of the dental assistant with dental hygienists, dental therapists and dental prosthetists. The specific tasks dental assistants carry out can vary widely depending on their workplace, all along their dental career path.

    Among the many duties, a dental assistant career in New South Wales may include:

    • Greet patients and help them feel comfortable in the dental practice;
    • Carry out reception duties, stock management and computer operations
    • Coordinate patients to help them comply with prescribed treatment plans and maintenance schedules;
    • Assist dentists, hygienists and therapists during a variety of treatment procedures;
    • Prepare the dental surgery both before and after treatments;
    • Ensure proper standards of infection control are maintained;
    • Process instruments after use;
    • Update patient records either on paper or as computer files;
    • Handle and prepare dental materials used in treatments;
    • Organise and transfer instruments during complex dental procedures;
    • Expose, process and catalogue radiographs (X-rays);
    • Make, trim and polish plaster and stone models of the mouth and teeth from impressions taken by a dental clinician;
    • Photograph exterior and interior oral structures to profile stages of treatment and outcomes;
    • Teach oral hygiene techniques to help people maintain healthy teeth and gums; and
    • Educate patients on oral and systemic health issues.

    Dental assistants are a vital part of the dental health care team. Most dental treatment procedures require the hands-on support of a well-trained dental assistant.

    Dental assistants must have direct supervision of a dentist to perform any hands-on duties with or alongside the patients. Duties without clinical contact with patients can be performed when the dentist is away from the practice.

  • Where do dental assistants work?

    Dental assistant employment opportunities are numerous and offer women and men of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds a choice of dentistry work settings.

    General dentistry practice: This type of dental practice represents the majority of dental practices in both the public and private sectors offering a full range of dental services to restore, replace and straighten teeth as well as provide preventive services to save and protect teeth. The dental assistant’s role in this type of practice will have the greatest variety of duties in a team environment that in addition to working with the dentist they may also work with specialist dentists, dental hygienists, dental therapists, dental technicians and dental prosthetists. The general dental practice can be either a solo (one dentist) or group (two or more dentists) practice.

    Specialty dentistry practice: This type of dental practice concentrates its services to a specialised area of oral health care, which can be periodontics, paediatric dentistry, endodontics, orthodontics, prosthodontics and oral surgery. The specialist practices require a team approach to achieve quality outcomes, which demands an intense focus by the dental assistant on precision of specific duties.

    Community or school-based public dental health clinic: The Community dental clinics in regional and rural areas provide routine and emergency dental services for eligible adults who hold a Pension card, Health Care card or Seniors card. Patients are on waiting lists to be seen. The school dental clinics aim to ensure that children have the opportunity to reach adulthood with good oral health and to develop the skills to maintain it. The dental assistant performs a variety of clinical duties and works as a team with dentists and dental therapists to educate and motivate the community in the principles of preventive dentistry and responsibility for their own oral health.

    The Australian Defence Force (Army, Navy or Air Force): Dental care is one of the health services provided to all military personnel. It is available in military dental clinics on ships and at bases. Dental assistants perform clinical duties with dentists and dental hygienists and may also help in managing the military clinic.

    Hospital dental clinic: Special needs dental care is offered through the hospital dental clinics for the members of the community with chemical, medical, mental and physical challenges. Hospital dental clinics also represent the clinical training facility for students in most of the dental areas. The dental assistant role requires a high level of caring and sensitivity to the needs of others and they will work through their dental career with experienced and training dentists, specialist dentists, dental hygienists, dental therapists, dental technicians and dental prosthetists.

    The dental assistant has exceptional career opportunities on their own or in combination with chairside assisting to work as practice managers, dental treatment coordinators, research assistants, educators, consumer advocates, dental sales representatives and consultants in an array of flexible work schedules.

    Practice Managers: Dental assistants can apply their experience and knowledge of planning, communications and customer care in a supervisory role to manage the practical day-to-day business of the dental practice. The responsibilities of managing the business aspect of health care also involve accounting and staff management skills.

    Dental Treatment Coordinators: Dental assistants in this position have excellent organisational skills, advanced communication skills and a high level of confidence and enthusiasm with solid clinical knowledge. This role involves working one-on-one with patients to ensure their questions are answered about dental treatment options, the fees involved and the scheduling of appointments. Some dental practices offer this personalised service to their patients, as it may translate to efficient time management of the whole team.

    Research Assistants: Dental research is about exploring and gaining new knowledge and information on all sciences relevant to dentistry and to the oral cavity and associated structures in health and disease. The dental assistant can be employed on a contract by a university or research facility to assist with the collection of dental records and delivery of dental care in clinical trials.

    Educators: Dental assistants can apply the skills and knowledge from their work experience in assisting with teaching dental, dental assistant, dental hygienist and dental therapist students in their respective training programs. This dental career avenue can lead toward advanced qualifications and degrees.

    Consumer Advocates: Dental assistants may come to concentrate their dentistry work on specific oral health issues that relate to population-based oral health concerns. They stay well informed of the current research and activities to take on an active role of informing, educating and advising the public through health promotion.

    Dental Sales Representatives: Dental assistants can apply their valuable working knowledge of dental products as a dental sales representative for a product or service company in the dental industry. They are responsible for promoting the company’s products primarily to dentists, but also to other dental professionals.

    Consultants: Dental assistants that have achieved a level of clinical efficiency in time management that combines effective business and patient-centred principles can choose to share their achievements with dental professionals on the speaker circuit, delivering educational lectures or courses and/or tailor to an individual dental practice through onsite consultation. They can also be employed by dental companies to create and deliver education material to healthcare professionals and the public as an Educational Consultant.

How to become a dental assistant

  • How do you become a dental assistant in New South Wales?

    Dental assisting offers excellent career opportunities for the high school student, high school graduate, those seeking a career change and those re-entering the workforce.

    To become a qualified dental assistant and achieve a dental career, you need to gain a Certificate III in Dental Assisting. New South Wales offers courses from three providers:

    • The NSW Dental Assistants’ (Professional) Association, Stanmore Visit Website
    • TAFE NSW – Sydney Institute – Randwick College based at the Sydney Dental Hospital Visit Website
    • TAFE NSW Open Training and Education Network (OTEN) Visit Website
    • The Australian Defence Force also offers dental assisting training programmes in the Army, Navy and Air Force. Visit Website

    Entry Requirements
    Requirements for entry to the Certificate III courses in Dental Assisting:

    • The Dental Assistants’ Professional Association
      • Students should be at least 16 years of age. Mature age persons welcome
      • Traineeship opportunities and School Based Traineeships available to eligible students
      • Classroom courses or distance learning
      • Minimum qualification of a year 10 school certificate
      • Required to be employed in a dental practice or have access to a practice by the end of first term
      • International Students
        • Minimum qualification of a school certificate level English or 5.5 IELTS
        • Permanent Resident of Australia
    • TAFE NSW OTEN and Sydney Dental Hospital (Sydney Institute)
      • NSW school certificate or equivalent from another authority
      • Must have access to a dental practice
      • International Students
        • Overall score of 5.5 IELTS
        • OR successful completion of the Certificate in English for TAFE
    • The Australian Defence Force
      • Must be at least 17 years of age and under 51 years of age
      • Have completed Year 10 with passes in English and mathematics.
        • Listed as desirable is a Year 10 pass in Science
      • Must be either an Australian citizen or a permanent resident of Australia

    Many dental practices provide on-the-job training programmes to get you started. The Certificate III qualification is also open to practicing dental assistants or students who can gain supervised workplace dental assisting experience. You may be given recognition of prior learning or work experience to gain exemptions from repeating what you already know.

    Dental assisting courses have attendance requirements and are run to fit in with typical working schedules. Some courses are also available via distance education as well as online.

    Distance or flexible learning is also available through the Dental Assistants Professional Assocation (DAPA).

    Ask your school careers advisor about the possibility of starting some of this dental assistant training while you are still at school. Some states offer school based traineeships in dental assisting - this is approved in NSW.

    Information on traineeships in dental assisting is available through the NSW Department of Education and Training New Apprenticeships Centres. 

    One of the best ways to experience the career is through a work experience trial. Contact your local dentist to see if they offer this. Please also ensure that you are covered by appropriate insurance, particularly if you are not a school student.

    A short "Introductory Course" into Dental Assisting is available through the DAPA. This course is suited to new entrants and school leavers, providing an introduction into practical dental assisting duties and basic "safe working" procedures including Infection Prevention. Students are encouraged to continue into Certificate III in Dental Assisting.

    Dental Assistants should have current vaccination for Hepatitis B and Tetanus.

    The Dental Assistants Professional Association also conducts an Employment Register which assists in finding suitable dentistry employment. Contact: info@dapa.asn.au or call (02) 9569 3220

  • If you are considering a dental assistant career you should:

    • Take high school courses in health, sciences, English, mathematics, speech and psychology
    • Apply for work experience in a dental practice or community dental clinic
    • Like working with your hands
    • Be of a reliable and responsible character
    • Communicate well and enjoy assisting people
      • To provide information and education to people of all ages, races and gender
      • To instil motivation toward healthy goals
      • To be sensitive to the needs of others
    • Be able to concentrate and follow instructions
      • To learn new skills and apply knowledge
      • To work accurately in a fast-paced environment
    • Have good organisational and time management skills
    • Enjoy working with others in a team environment
    • Be interested in the delivery of oral health care

Career Paths

  • Dental Assistant Job Opportunities

    Several job openings are available at any given time with numerous dental assistant positions being entry-level and offering on-the-job training. A dental assistant's credentials and professional competence are recognised in employment compensation and positions when they achieve their certificate qualifications. To many individuals, the job of a dental assistant serves as a bridge that connects basic and entry-level training with more advanced and higher income dentistry occupations.

  • What career paths exist for dental assistants?

    Certificate IV in Business for Dental Practice Managers

    • Nationally recognised qualification customised for Dental Industry staff
    • Applicable to those currently holding or aspiring to hold a management or supervisory role in the dental practice
    • Study by distance or face to face workshops
    • UNE Partnerships in conjunction with the Australian Dental Association (NSW Branch) Download PDF

    Certificate IV in Frontline Management for Dental Practice Managers

    • Nationally recognised qualification customised for Dental Industry staff
    • Applicable to those currently holding or aspiring to hold a management or supervisory role in the dental practice
    • Study by distance or face to face workshops
    • UNE Parnerships in conjunction with the Australian Dental Association (NSW Branch) Download PDF

    Diploma in Professional Practice Leadership for Dental Practice Managers

    • Nationally recognised qualification customised for Dental Industry staff
    • This qualification is designed to meet the needs of practice managers with responsibility for shaping the future direction of their practice
    • Study by distance or face to face workshops
    • UNE Partnerships in conjunction with the Australian Dental Association (NSW Branch) Download PDF

    Executive Development Program Practice Management Pathway

    • Credit pathway to UNE MBA for those holding a nationally recognised Diploma or Advanced Diploma level qualification in a Business Management related field.
    • 20 week course designed to augment the skills and knowledge gained from the relevant vocational award and develop critical thinking skills to support study at postgraduate level
    • UNE Partnerships and the Graduate School of Business (GSB) at the University of New England 

More Info

  • A Rewarding Career

    Dental assistants have one of the most diverse and interesting of all positions in a dental practice or clinic. Dental clinicians require dental assistants to be reliable and dependable, to work well with people, and to have superior manual dexterity because their hands are like a second pair to them.

    A dental assisting career offers personal satisfaction in working through a team effort to provide valuable oral health care services and developing trusting relationships with patients. Flexible work schedules make balancing work and lifestyle needs very achievable.

  • Information Websites

    • Dental Assistants’ Professional Association, (phone 02 9569 3220, email info@dapa.asn.au)  Visit Website
    • TAFE NSW Visit Website
    • Centrelink Visit Website (search: ‘careers information centres’)
    • Department of Education and Training Australian Apprenticeships Centres Visit Website
    • Australian Defence Forces Visit Website
    • The Job Guide occupation information
    • The Australian Dental Association, Inc. (National) Visit Website
    • Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health Visit Website
    • Open Colleges - Certificate III in Dental Assisting Visit Website
  • Where can I get more dental assisting job information in NSW?

    • Your school careers advisor
    • Your local dental practice
    • Centrelink Career Information Centre:
    • (02) 9209-1661
    • TAFE (NSW):
    • 131 601
    • TAFE Online: sydney.info@tafensw.edu.au
    • 1300 360 601
    • NSW Dental Assistants’ (Professional) Association:
    • (02) 9427-6162
    • Australian Apprenticeship Centres
    • 1800 639 629 (FREECALL)
    • The Australian Dental Association, Inc. (National) Policy Statement on Allied Dental Professionals in Australia