Dental chairside assistant

A dental chairside assistant


Dental chairside assistants support dental practitioners in clinical treatments, as preparation and helping in practical execution and follow-up, and administrative tasks under supervision and following the orders of the dental practitioner.

Dental chairside assistants typically do the following:

  • Ensure that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
  • Prepare patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
  • Sterilize dental instruments
  • Hand instruments to dentists during procedures
  • Dry patients’ mouths using suction hoses and other equipment
  • Instruct patients in proper oral hygiene
  • Process x rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist
  • Keep records of dental treatments
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Work with patients on billing and payment

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to dental chairside assistant:

dental support worker
trainee dental nurse
orthodontic nurse
dental assistant
qualified dental nurse

Working conditions

Dental chairside assistants work under the supervision of dentists and work closely with dental hygienists in their day-to-day activities.

Dental chairside assistants wear safety glasses, surgical masks, protective clothing, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. They also must follow safety procedures to minimize risks associated with x-ray machines.

Most dental chairside assistants work full time. Some work evenings or weekends.

Minimum qualifications

Requirements to become a dental chairside assistant vary depending on the location. In general, a high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum required. Sometimes, an associate’s degree may be required.

Some jurisdictions require dental chairside assistants who conduct X-rays, apply sealant or fluoride to be licensed.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Dental chairside assistant is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Dental chairside assistant career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to dental chairside assistant.

dental hygienist
dental technician
physiotherapy assistant
chiropractic assistant
pharmacy technician

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of dental chairside assistant. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of dental chairside assistant with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

specialist biomedical scientist
specialist pharmacist
dental practitioner

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of dental chairside assistant.

  • Respond to changing situations in health care: Cope with pressure and respond appropriately and in time to unexpected and rapidly changing situations in healthcare.
  • Educate on the prevention of illness: Offer evidence-based advice on how to avoid ill health, educate and advise individuals and their carers on how to prevent ill health and/or be able to advise how to improve their environment and health conditions. Provide advice on the identification of risks leading to ill health and help to increase the patients’ resilience by targeting prevention and early intervention strategies.
  • Prepare dental instruments for sterilization: Correctly transport, clean and sterilise dental instruments, packing the instruments appropriately for sterilisation and storing them properly after the procedure.
  • Observe patient throughout dental treatment: Monitor patient’s behavior during the provided dental treatment, so as to react rapidly in cases of negative reactions, under the supervision of the dental practitioner.
  • Contribute to continuity of health care: Contribute to the delivery of coordinated and continuous healthcare.
  • Promote health and safety policies in health services: Promote adherence to local, regional, national and EU Health and Safety legislation, policies, guidelines and protocols.
  • Use e-health and mobile health technologies: Use mobile health technologies and e-health (online applications and services) in order to enhance the provided healthcare.
  • Empathise with the healthcare user: Understand the background of clients` and patients’ symptoms, difficulties and behaviour. Be empathetic about their issues; showing respect and reinforcing their autonomy, self-esteem and independence. Demonstrate a concern for their welfare and handle according to the personal boundaries, sensitivities, cultural differences and preferences of the client and patient in mind.
  • Provide dental administrative post-treatment patient services: Provide patient services post-treatment such as cleaning the patient`s face and mouth, checking the patient`s general condition, assisting patient as needed, relaying instructions on medication and other post-treatment care from the dentist.
  • Deal with emergency care situations: Assess the signs and be well-prepared for a situation that poses an immediate threat to a person’s health, security, property or environment.
  • Prepare materials for dental procedures: Prepare dental materials such as cements, amalgam, composite, and impression materials as requested by the dentist, mixing materials for impressions and restorations and assembling syringes for anaesthesia.
  • Provide health education: Provide evidence based strategies to promote healthy living, disease prevention and management.
  • Deal with patients’ anxiety: Recognise and handle the fears of patients undergoing a dental treatment.
  • Communicate effectively in healthcare: Communicate effectively with patients, families and other caregivers, health care professionals, and community partners.
  • Follow clinical guidelines: Follow agreed protocols and guidelines in support of healthcare practice which are provided by healthcare institutions, professional associations, or authorities and also scientific organisations.
  • Turn impressions of the mouth into models: Fabricate, trim and polish plaster and stone models of the mouth and teeth, working from impressions taken by a dental clinician.
  • Perform dental charting: Create a dental chart of the patient`s mouth in order to provide information on tooth decay, cavities, missing teeth, the depths of gum pockets, abnormalities in teeth such as rotations, erosion or abrasions in the teeth or enamel, damage to teeth, or the presence of prosthetic teeth according to the dentist`s directions and under the dentist`s supervision.
  • Educate on oral healthcare and disease prevention: Educate patients on improving oral healthcare and preventing dental diseases, promoting brushing, flossing, and all other aspects of dental care according to the dentist`s directions and under the dentist`s supervision.
  • Comply with legislation related to health care: Comply with the regional and national legislation that is relevant to one`s work and apply it in practice.
  • Listen actively: Give attention to what other people say, patiently understand points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times; able to listen carefully the needs of customers, clients, passengers, service users or others, and provide solutions accordingly.
  • Apply health sciences: Apply a broad range of bio-medical, psycho-social, organisational, educational, and societal aspects of health, disease, and healthcare to improve healthcare services and to improve quality of life.
  • Work in a multicultural environment in health care: Interact, relate and communicate with individuals from a variety of different cultures, when working in a healthcare environment.
  • Promote inclusion: Promote inclusion in health care and social services and respect diversity of beliefs, culture, values and preferences, keeping in mind the importance of equality and diversity issues.
  • Interact with healthcare users: Communicate with clients and their carer’s, with the patient’s permission, to keep them informed about the clients’ and patients’ progress and safeguarding confidentiality.
  • Follow dentists’ instructions: Work directly with dentists by following their detailed instuctions.
  • Manage infection control in the facility: Implement a set of measures to prevent and control infections, formulating and establishing health and safety procedures and policies.
  • Ensure safety of healthcare users: Make sure that healthcare users are being treated professionally, effectively and safe from harm, adapting techniques and procedures according to the person’s needs, abilities or the prevailing conditions.
  • Apply organisational techniques: Employ a set of organisational techniques and procedures which facilitate the achievement of the goals set. Use these resources efficiently and sustainably, and show flexibility when required.
  • Develop a collaborative therapeutic relationship: Develop a mutually collaborative therapeutic relationship during treatment, fostering and gaining healthcare users’ trust and cooperation.
  • Pass dental instruments: Pass the appropriate dental instruments to dentists as requested and in a timely manner, employing proper techniques and dexterity in passing these materials to and retrieving them from the dentist.
  • Prepare patients for dental treatment: Seat and drape the patient, explaining treatment procedures to patient if required.
  • Apply context specific clinical competences: Apply professional and evidence based assessment, goal setting, delivery of intervention and evaluation of clients, taking into account the developmental and contextual history of the clients, within one`s own scope of practice.
  • Maintain dental station and operatory: Maintain the dental station or operatory area in a clean, orderly and functional condition, sorting and storing instruments, linens medications, and other supplies, and oiling and cleaning equipment such as handpieces and cavitron.
  • Work in multidisciplinary health teams: Participate in the delivery of multidisciplinary health care, and understand the rules and competences of other healthcare related professions.
  • Perform dental radiographs: Take and develop dental radiographs or x-rays for patients, by properly positioning the patient and film/image receptor to take intra- and extra-oral radiographs, applying all regulations for patient safety (shielding, operator protection, beam collimation).
  • Assist the dentist during the dental treatment procedure: Actively participate in the treatment procedure to retract tissue, tongue and cheek. Keep area clear and prevent saliva build-up and debris in the patient`s mouth by using a suction tip and oral evacuator, stabilising tissue and clipping sutures in oral surgery and applying force to chisel guided by dentist in the removal of impacted teeth.
  • Accept own accountability: Accept accountability for one`s own professional activities and recognise the limits of one`s own scope of practice and competencies.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of dental chairside assistant. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

ISCO group and title

3251 – Dental assistants and therapists

  1. Dental chairside assistant – ESCO
  2. Dental Assistant : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  3. Featured image: Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash
Last updated on January 23, 2023

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