A dental assistant prepares surgical equipment, cleans teeth and assists a dentist by performing a variety of other tasks. Someone working as a dental assistant trainee performs the same basic functions as a qualified assistant except that trainees often combine on-the-job training with classroom-based instruction. In many municipalities, trainees must work under the direct supervision of dentists while experienced assistants are often able to perform various tasks when a dentist is not present.
Some dentists hire high school graduates to work as trainee assistants and these individuals often handle clerical tasks such as setting appointments as well as assisting dentists who are treating patients. These individuals normally receive basic instruction so that they are able to recognize different kinds of surgical instruments. Prior to surgeries, the dental assistant trainee may be asked to sterilize the implements that the dentist plans to use during the surgery and the trainee may hand equipment to the dentist while procedures are being performed. In most instances, a fully trained assistant will work alongside the trainee to ensure that no errors are made that could delay the procedure.
Many dentists and health providers partner with local colleges to provide formal training sessions for trainees. In most instances, people who attend such sessions are able to perform more complex tasks than entry-level workers who only receive on-the-job training. During classroom based sessions, a dental assistant trainee is taught about the history of dentistry, dental treatments, oral infections and hygiene. Additionally, trainees receive on-the-job training during which they are taught how to use teeth cleaning equipment and certain techniques such as how to make casts of teeth. These kinds of training programs may last for several months or years depending upon the complexity of the tasks that a fully qualified assistant must perform.
Laws in some areas mean that dental assistants do not have to have any professional credentials but in other places dental assistants are required to be licensed. In such instances, the dental assistant trainee must complete a certain number of hours of work under the close supervision of a licensed assistant or dentist. Thereafter, the trainee may have to take a written or practical examination during which the assistant's ability to perform basic tasks and answer patient's questions is put to the test. A dental assistant trainee who successfully passes the examination process receives a license to practice. While trained assistants can perform certain tasks without being under the direct supervision of a dentist, laws in most areas mean that assistants have to be affiliated with licensed dentists which means that these individuals cannot start their own dental businesses.