Dental careers give you something to smile about

Dental Careers November Blog

No matter how you feel as a patient about a trip to the dentist, there are a lot of things worth smiling about when you’re on the other side of the chair. For starters, as a dental assistant or dental hygienist, you’re providing important preventive and ongoing care for patients. The best part? You have a good work/life balance, with a good salary.

Dental Assistants

To begin a career as a dental assistant, some offices may provide on-the-job training with no experience required while others may prefer a career studies certificate in dental assisting. Usually starting out between $14-19 an hour, dental assistants help provide patient care, conduct x-rays, handle scheduling and preparing a room for a dental examination. As one periodontist and dental implant specialist told us, a person who has an attention to detail and a can-do attitude would thrive in this line of work.

“The dental assistant is the right hand of the dentist. They do everything to prepare for a patient and make sure everything for a procedure is ready to go,” Dr. Lillie Pitman, one of the dentists at Synergy Periodontics and Implants in Fredericksburg, said. “Having a firm understanding of infection control and cleanliness is very important in this role. People who do well are detail oriented and like to follow protocols or steps. Lastly, being able to work as a team is a big one. It makes and breaks a great dental assistant. If your teammate is running behind, you help to pick things up.”

Dr. Pitman also noted that having interpersonal conversational skills and typing and general computer skills were also a plus since most records are now managed digitally.

Dental Hygienists

The next rung up in the dental field is a hygienist. This role requires advanced education, 55% of Virginia-based hygienists have an associate degree vs. a bachelor’s degree. While a direct move from assisting to hygiene isn’t necessarily required, it could give you a leg up when you’re applying to educational programs.

“There is a current shortage of hygienists. There was a mass exodus in the field during COVID,” Dr. Pitman said. “It’s very rewarding. It does mean more school to become a hygienist, but I think having an assistant background makes you a more competitive candidate if you’re applying to schools.”

According to a recent survey of dental hygienists in Virginia, the average pay is between $60,000 and $70,000 a year. Additionally, 78% of dental hygienists receive at least one employer-sponsored benefit, including 53% who have access to a retirement plan.

What are some other perks of working at a dental office? If you don’t offer emergency services, you can expect to work an 8-5 schedule, with holidays off. If that’s not enough, from the sounds of it, now is a great time to consider a dental career.

“We’ve had a dental assistant ad open for a whole year. It’s very difficult to find dental assistants in this market. There is room for people to join the field. There are jobs out there waiting,” Pitman said.

A national survey backed up that claim, stating that more than 80% of dentists found it extremely or very challenging to fill open positions compared with before the pandemic.

Now, are you smiling?

To learn more about G3 funding and what options are available where you live, visit Learn how to Qualify and Programs for more information.