Dental assisting, then and now

three signs; one pointing to the left that says "past," one in the center that says "now," and one pointing right that says "future"

To say that dental assisting has changed in the last several decades is an understatement. As dentistry has evolved, dental assistants have gone from “ladies in attendance” to key members of the dental team. Dental Assistants Recognition Week is a great time to look back on some of the ways dental assisting has grown as a profession.

Infection control

Remember when dental assistants didn’t wear gloves or masks? Well, that’s a thing of the past. One of the major changes for dentistry was the adoption of federal infection control standards and guidelines. Today, dental assistants are often in charge of infection control in the dental office and may even serve as the infection control coordinator.

“Infection control is one of the most important things we do in the office because we have to make sure everybody stays safe and healthy,” says Tija, CDA, EFDA.

Expanded functions

In recent years, many states have expanded the duties that dental assistants can perform. Dental assistants who are eager take on additional duties have climbed the career ladders in their states by pursuing credentials for expanded functions. You can check your state’s requirements by using DANB’s Search-by-State Map.

“With expanded functions, dental assistants can make the dental practice more efficient,” says Mary, CDA, EFDA, EFODA, FADAA.

Digital technology

Digital technology has made its way into the dental office, encouraging dental assistants to become more tech savvy. Computers help with tasks like scheduling and maintaining patient charts, and many offices now use digital radiography.

“You’ve got to change with the times,” says Dixie, CDA, COA. “You don’t know how to use a computer? Go take a course. Keep educating yourself.”

Continuing education

As dental assistants take on more responsibilities, continuing education becomes crucial to their careers. Keeping up with the fast-paced world of dentistry requires a commitment to lifelong learning. Plus, earning and maintaining DANB certification can help dental assistants continue to advance their careers.

“Earning DANB certification can open the door to numerous possibilities. And, staying on top of continuing education is critical,” says Marci, CDA.

More multitasking

Although dental assistants are responsible for more duties, they don’t always have more time to complete everything. It’s no wonder the best dental assistants thrive in a fast-paced environment and know how to stay on top of all the details that keep the practice running smoothly.

“Compared to 30 or 40 years ago, a lot more duties now fall on the dental assistant,” says Cathy. “We have a greater role in managing the office, working with the patients, and assisting the dentist. But we are still the heart and soul of the office — that hasn’t changed.”

Read more: The many superpowers of dental assistants