Dental assistants have a wide variety of duties, so they also need a diverse range of skills. Some are specifically related to dental work, whereas others are valuable soft skills allowing them to perform clerical duties and interact with patients successfully. But what skills are the most important for an aspiring dental assistant to have, and where can you develop them? Here at Risio Institute, our in-depth and comprehensive dental assistant training program provides students with the qualifications and abilities necessary to succeed in this rewarding career. Below, we’ll cover 10 absolutely necessary skills for dental assistants and give you more details on how you can build them.

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5 Essential Tasks for Dental Assistants

Working as a dental assistant requires specific knowledge of dentistry and clinical experience. Here are 5 skills directly related to dental work that you’ll need to work in a practice:

1. Taking X-Rays

Dental assistants are often required to take x-rays for patients so that dentists can examine them for evidence of teeth or jaw issues. As such, dental assistants must be properly trained to use x-ray equipment safely and effectively. This includes knowing how to place the sensor and operate the machine without damaging it. 

woman looking at x rays

2. Preparing Dental Materials

In addition to complex equipment like x-ray machines, many consumable materials are used daily in dental practices—including masks, gloves, tray covers, and more. Successful dental assistants must know how to equip, use, and dispose of these supplies safely and in compliance with health and safety standards where they live.

3. Disinfecting Exam Rooms & Tools

Anything in a dental practice that gets used for multiple patients must be properly disinfected before and after use. This includes not only the instruments that dentists and hygienists place in patients’ mouths during appointments, but the chair, counters, and other surfaces in the examination room as well.

4. Maintaining Equipment

Dental equipment is often complex and sensitive, requiring routine maintenance to function reliably during long-term use. Dentists typically don’t have the time to service equipment themselves, so dental assistants are often responsible for checking equipment and performing routine maintenance.

5. Taking Impressions of Patients’ Teeth

If you’ve ever had an impression of your teeth taken during a dental appointment, you might mistakenly believe that it’s a relatively simple procedure. But there are actually many important considerations for the dental assistants who perform this key task. They need to know how to use the right size of tray, keep the margins visible during the process, and more.

Top 5 Traits for Dental Assistants

Not all skills needed by dental assistants are technical. Successful dental assistants also need to be detail-oriented, dynamic professionals with strong interpersonal skills. If you want to become a dental assistant, you’ll want to prioritize the following:

1. Organizational Skills

Dental assistants are often responsible for collecting vital data about patients before, during, and after their appointments. They may also be responsible for archiving patient records, along with storing dental supplies and tools. As such, dental assistants need to be organized enough to know where almost any item or piece of information needed by the practice is at any time.

2. Written & Oral Communication Skills

Dental assistants communicate with virtually everyone who sets foot inside their practice—from the dentists and front-desk staff to the patients themselves. They may also be required to assist with reception duties, communicating via phone or email with people who are trying to reach the practice.

3. Computer Skills

Since most patient information is now stored and maintained digitally, dental assistants must have basic-to-intermediate computer skills. They’ll typically need a working knowledge of programs like Microsoft Office or Google Drive, along with any CRM or patient-management software the practice uses. This can be especially important when dealing with a patient’s insurance provider, since direct billing is almost exclusively done online these days.

4. Administrative Skills

Dental assistants must have a strong understanding of how front-desk duties correspond to the important work dentists perform in the exam room. As such, any successful dental assistant should be as comfortable in an office environment as they are in a clinical setting.

5. Compassion & Empathy

Since dental assistants spend so much time dealing with patients, it’s vital for them to connect easily with others. A great dental assistant is friendly, caring, professional, and sensitive to the needs of others.

How Risio Can Help

At Risio Institute, we understand that you can’t learn everything you need to become a successful dental assistant from a book. That’s why our program is taught and administered by actual dental assistants who have spent years gaining firsthand knowledge of the industry and its requirements. When you study with us, you get more than theory and practice—you get clinical experience that helps you learn how to apply your technical skills in a real-world environment and fine-tune the soft skills you’ll need to succeed there. For more information, contact us directly and speak with a member of our team. We’ll be happy to help you learn more about what you need to enjoy a long and fulfilling career as a dental assistant.