Detailed Guide forDental Assistants in San Diego County
May also be called: Registered Dental Assistants (RDA); Certified Registered Dental Assistants; Surgical Dental Assistants; and Orthodontic Assistants
What Would I Do?
Dental Assistants perform a variety of patient care, office, and laboratory duties. They work chairside as dentists examine and treat patients. Duties can vary depending upon the size of the practice, with larger offices resulting in greater job specialization.
They make patients as comfortable as possible in the dental chair, prepare them for treatment, and obtain their dental records. Assistants hand instruments and materials to dentists and keep patients’ mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices. Assistants also sterilize and disinfect instruments and equipment, prepare trays of instruments for dental procedures, and instruct patients on postoperative and general oral health care.
Some Dental Assistants prepare materials for impressions and restorations, take dental x-rays, and process the film as directed by a dentist. They may also remove sutures, apply topical anesthetics to gums or cavity-preventive agents to teeth, remove excess cement used in the filling process, and place rubber dams on the teeth to isolate them for individual treatment.
Those with laboratory duties make casts of the teeth and mouth from impressions, clean and polish removable appliances, and make temporary crowns.
Dental Assistants may also assist with office duties such as scheduling and confirming appointments, receiving patients, keeping treatment records, sending bills, receiving payments, and ordering dental supplies and materials.
(The job of Dental Assistant should not be confused with Dental Hygienists, who are licensed to perform different clinical tasks.)
Important Tasks and Related Skills
Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.
|View the skill definitions|
|Task||Skill Used in this Task|
|Prepare patient, sterilize and disinfect instruments, set up instrument trays, prepare materials, and assist dentist during dental procedures.||Medicine and Dentistry|
|Expose dental diagnostic x-rays.||Equipment Selection|
|Record treatment information in patient records.||English Language|
|Take and record medical and dental histories and vital signs of patients.||Customer and Personal Service|
|Provide postoperative instructions prescribed by dentist.||Active Listening|
|Assist dentist in management of medical and dental emergencies.||Time Management|
|Pour, trim, and polish study casts.||Arm-Hand Steadiness|
|Instruct patients in oral hygiene and plaque control programs.||Service Orientation|
|Make preliminary impressions for study casts and occlusal registrations for mounting study casts.||Finger Dexterity|
|Clean and polish removable appliances.||Coordination|
Below is a definition for each skill.
|View the tasks to skills list|
|Medicine and Dentistry||Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.|
|Equipment Selection||Determining the kind of tools and equipment needed to do a job.|
|English Language||Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.|
|Customer and Personal Service||Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.|
|Active Listening||Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.|
|Time Management||Managing one's own time and the time of others.|
|Arm-Hand Steadiness||The ability to keep your hand and arm steady while moving your arm or while holding your arm and hand in one position.|
|Service Orientation||Actively looking for ways to help people.|
|Finger Dexterity||The ability to make precisely coordinated movements of the fingers of one or both hands to grasp, manipulate, or assemble very small objects.|
|Coordination||Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.|
Dental Assistants work in pleasant, well-lighted dental offices and clinics. Their work area usually is near the dental chair so they can arrange instruments, materials, and medication and hand them to the dentist when needed. Dental Assistants must wear gloves, masks, eyewear, and protective clothing to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases. Assistants also follow safety procedures to minimize the risks associated with the use of x-ray machines.
About half of Dental Assistants have a 35- to 40-hour workweek, which may include work on Saturdays or evenings. Some Dental Assistants work part time; however, most work a 32- to 40-hour workweek.
The occupation is not unionized in most practices.
Will This Job Fit Me?
Dental assisting should appeal to job seekers who enjoy working with people, and who crave an environment where each day is different. This occupation is one that will attract people with social and realistic interests. Social occupations frequently involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people. These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others.
What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?
The median wage in 2016 for Dental Assistants in California was $37,822 annually, or $18.18 hourly. The median wage for Dental Assistants in San Diego County was $39,841 annually, or $19.15 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.
Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment.
Most dental practices offer full-time Dental Assistants vacation and sick leave. Other benefits may include medical, dental, vision, life insurance, and/or retirement plans. Generally, part-time Assistants receive fewer benefits. However, some part-time employees receive medical and dental insurance and vacation.
What Do Local Employers Say About Benefits? Of the 38 employers in San Diego County, almost all provide vacation, and most provide medical insurance benefits to Dental Assistants who work full-time.
|Percent of Employers Who Provide|
Specific Benefits by Time Base
|Paid Time Off Bank||13%||0%|
Of the 28 employers surveyed who responded in San Diego County, who provides medical benefits, many reported that they pay half or more of the cost of medical insurance for full-time, and none reported that they pay half or more of the cost of medical insurance for part-time Dental Assistants.
|Percent of Employers Who Paid Medical |
Insurance by Portion Paid by Time Base
|Portion Paid by Employer:||Full-Time||Part-Time|
|Half or more||32%||0%|
|Less than Half||54%||0%|
What is the Job Outlook?
In general, the outlook for this occupation should be good. The demand for Dental Assistants will be spurred by the need to spare the dentist the more routine tasks in favor of more complex, and financially rewarding, procedures. The majority of job openings will occur due to the need to replace workers who retire, transfer to other occupations, or leave the labor force. Many opportunities are for entry-level positions offering on-the-job training.
Population growth and greater retention of natural teeth by middle-aged and older people should fuel demand for dental services. Older dentists, who may have been less likely to employ Assistants, are leaving the occupation and will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to use one or even two Assistants. In addition, as dentists’ workloads increase, they are expected to hire more Assistants to perform routine tasks, so they may devote their own time to more complex procedures.
Projections of Employment
In California, the number of Dental Assistants is expected to grow at an average rate compared with the total for all occupations. Jobs for Dental Assistants are expected to increase by 15.6 percent, or 7,600 jobs between 2014 and 2024.
In San Diego County, the number of Dental Assistants is expected to grow faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Dental Assistants are expected to increase by 18.1 percent, or 680 jobs between 2014 and 2024.
|Estimated Employment and Projected Growth|
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Due to Net
|San Diego County|
|View Projected Growth for All Areas|
Annual Job Openings
In California, an average of 760 new job openings per year is expected for Dental Assistants, plus an additional 1,210 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 1,970 job openings.
In San Diego County, an average of 68 new job openings per year is expected for Dental Assistants, plus an additional 93 job openings due to net replacement needs, resulting in a total of 161 job openings.
|Estimated Average Annual Job Openings|
|Jobs From Growth||Jobs Due to|
|San Diego County|
|View Data for All Areas|
How Do I Qualify?
Education, Training, and Other Requirements
Many Assistants learn on the job, though some complete a course of study at a technical or community college. Some Assistants learn the trade in the armed forces.
Experience is preferred but not required. Education can take the place of experience in many dentists’ offices. Most Assistants learn their skills on the job, although an increasing number are trained in dental assisting programs; most programs take one year or less to complete. Enrollment in an ROP course, combining instruction with practical experience, is an excellent way to gain entry to the occupation.
Early Career Planning
High school students interested in becoming Dental Assistants should take courses in biology, chemistry, health, and office practices.
Dental Assistants in California have no continuing education requirements. However, Registered Dental Assistants and Registered Dental Assistants in Extended Functions must renew their California State license every two years and complete 25 hours of continuing education. Current CPR training approved by the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association is also required.
Each licensee must complete 25 units of approved coursework during each two-year renewal cycle. Twenty units must be in athe actual delivery of dental services, including two units each in infection control and the California Dental Practice Act. Other courses must be in basic life support, preventive services, diagnosis, nutritionn counseling, treatment planning, corrective and restorative treatment, the dentists role in health emergencies and disasters, legal requirements, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA), instrument sterilization, and environmental and general safety. Other classes include record keeping, the practice of dentistry including scheduling, practice management, communication, legal matters, and health care delivery.
Apprenticeship and Work Study (ROP) Programs
Regional Occupational Programs (ROP) exist throughout the State. The program generally consists of classroom instruction combined with pre-clinic, hands-on experience in a dentist’s office. Closely supervised clinical experience dealing with patients comprises the second half of the course. The total length of the program is usually 9-12 months. ROPs offer an excellent entry point for the Dental Assistant. To find an ROP program near you, go to the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs Website at www.carocp.org/carocps.html.
Licensing and Certification
Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.
Dental Assistants who complete an American Dental Association-accredited dental assisting education program can take an exam to become certified. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers certification in dental assisting. Completion of the course work can result in the Assistant being designated as a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA). DANB also offers training for Assistants performing advanced duties, including taking x-rays of patients’ teeth. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.
Where Can I Find Training?
There are two ways to search for training information:
Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.
Where Would I Work?
The largest industries employing Dental Assistants are as follows:
|Industry Title||Percent of Total Employment for Occupation in California|
|Offices of Dentists ||92.6%|
|Offices of Physicians ||1.8%|
|Colleges and Universities ||1.5%|
|Outpatient Care Centers ||1.5%|
|State Government ||1.0%|
What Employers Say...
The Employment Development Department surveyed 38 employers in San Diego County which employ 166 Dental Assistants. Here's what they had to say:
About Full-Time/Part-Time: Almost All of these firms employ full-time and many employ part-time Dental Assistants.
About Work Experience: Of the 38 employers surveyed in San Diego County, almost all require new hires to have prior work experience as Dental Assistants. In the table below, percentages may not add to 100% since employers may select more than one time period.
|How Much Work Experience|
Do Employers Require?
|More than 5 years ||6%|
|25 to 60 months ||18%|
|13 to 24 months ||18%|
|1 to 12 months ||58%|
About Recruitment: Of the 38 employers surveyed in San Diego County, many indicate it is moderately difficult to find applicants with experience who meet their minimum hiring requirements, while many indicate it is easy to find applicants without previous experience who meet their minimum hiring requirements to fill vacancies for Dental Assistants.
About Hiring: Of the 38 employers surveyed in San Diego County, almost all expect the number of Dental Assistants they employ to remain stable during the coming year.
|Expect Employment to Increase ||16%|
|Expect Employment to Remain Stable ||82%|
|Expect Employment to Decline ||3%|
About Vacancies: Of the 38 employers surveyed in San Diego County, 58 percent hired Dental Assistants during the past year. Of the hiring firms, 64 percent filled existing vacancies, 45 percent filled newly created positions, and 9 percent filled temporary assignments.
Finding a Job
Direct application to private dental offices is an excellent way of locating openings. Sometimes one office will know of opportunities in another dental office. Private colleges and vocational schools may offer placement assistance, as do many community colleges. Many employers recruit job applicants through newspaper advertisements. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at www.jobcentral.com and CalJOBSSM at www.caljobs.ca.gov.
To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).
Yellow Page Headings
You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Dental Assistants.
- Dental Clinics
- Medical & Dental Assistants, Technicians Schools
- Public Health Clinics
- State Prisons
Find Possible Employers
To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:
- Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
- Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
- Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
- Contact the employer for possible employment.
Where Could This Job Lead?
Opportunities for advancement are limited without additional education. In larger offices, Dental Assistants with front office experience may advance to become office managers.
In addition, Dental Assistants may advance to Dental Hygienist after graduating from a State Board-approved dental hygiene program and obtaining the required California State license.
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For the Career Professional
The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.