What Skills Do You Need to Succeed as a Dental Assistant?

Skills Needed to Succeed as a Dental Assistant

Are you looking for a job and wondering if dental assisting is for you? Or maybe you already have a job as a dental assistant and are wondering what you need to do to excel in that position? Well, as with Liam Neeson in Taken, there is a particular set of skills — some of which you may have naturally, others of which you can develop — that lead to a successful career in dental assisting. Here are some questions to consider when determining if this is the field for you.

Interpersonal Skills:


  • Can you deliver great customer service? The people who come to visit your dentist may be “patients,” but they’re also “customers” who should be treated respectfully and compassionately (given they may have medical problems of a sensitive nature), because if they’re not, there are plenty of competing practices willing to take them in. If you’re working at the front desk answering phones and greeting patients, you’re the face of the practice and have a direct impact on how much business flows into (and out of) the office.
  • Are you a team player? There may be an “I” in “dentist,” but there’s no “I” in “team.” The average independent dentist has between four and five employees in the office, so working together cohesively is a must. Not only do you have to communicate effectively with patients, but communication with your coworkers must likewise be clear and concise.
  • Can you handle stress? With patients coming and going at a rapid pace, insurance payments to be collected and sometimes cramped conditions, a dentist’s office can be a stressful workplace, so it’s important to be able to take a breath, relax and not get rattled.
  • Do you have a professional appearance/demeanor? You are representing your dentist, so if you look or act unprofessionally, patients might assume the dentist is similarly unprofessional. You must perform your duties honestly and ethically, being respectful of patients and coworkers while displaying self-restraint, maturity and emotional stability.

Office Skills:


  • Can you multitask? As a dental assistant, your duties vary widely from the clerical to the clinical, so it’s vital that you’re able to juggle multiple tasks.
  • Do you have basic computer skills? Face it, it’s the 21st century, so there’s a basic level of computer knowledge you have to have to work in any office environment. Speedy typing and knowledge of specialized dental software like Dentrix will give you a leg up on the competition in the job market.
  • Are you detail-oriented? Dental assistants deal with two of the most urgent aspects of people’s lives — health and money — so there’s very little room for error. You must pay close attention to details, from managing medical records to recording payments, in order to keep your patients happy and healthy.
  • Are you tenacious? Handling insurance payments can be one of the most frustrating and drawn-out parts of a dental assistant’s job, so it’s key to remain firm and determined to see each item through to the end, including having a thick enough skin to handle pressure from both the patients and the insurance companies.

Medical Skills:


  • Do you have basic dental knowledge? School training will no doubt help you in this area, preparing you to come into any dental assistant job knowing enough about proper dental care to advise patients.
  • Do you have basic clinical skills? In addition to general dental knowledge, dental assistants should be familiar with any dental instruments and procedures that could be part of their clinical responsibilities, from making temporary crowns to tooth impressions to x-rays to sterilization techniques.
  • Do you have the physical ability? Being a dental assistant requires you to be on your feet quite a bit and involves a good deal of physical movement, so you should be fit and mobile enough to handle the strain. Additionally, there is a level of manual dexterity involved with handling small dental instruments, and you should have good enough vision to effectively examine patients’ teeth.

(Source: American Medical Association)