Role of the Dental Assistant

What Dental Assistants Do?

Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from patient care and taking x rays to record-keeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists offices where they work.


Dental assistants typically do the following:

  • Take and record vital signs
  • Assist with oral examinations
  • Prepare tray set-ups for oral procedures
  • Prepare patients and operatories for dental procedures
  • Expose digital radiographs and film, and perform x-ray processing
  • Help dentists by transferring instruments during procedures, such as fillings, crown preparations, and tooth extractions
  • Provide better visibility for dentists by using suction and other equipment
  • Take impressions and pour up models
  • Provide post-operative instructions as prescribed by the dentist
  • Provide patient prevention education
  • Maintain accurate patient treatment records
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Work with patients on billing and payment
  • Manage infection and hazard control protocol
  • Identify and respond to medical and dental emergencies

Under the direction of the dentist, qualified dental assistants are allowed to perform the following procedures in Oregon:

  • Coronal polishing the surface of teeth
  • Apply dental sealants and fluoride
  • Fabricate and cement temporary crowns
  • Place temporary restorative material
  • Place retraction cord
  • Place and remove matrix retainers
  • Polish silver fillings
  • Perform tooth whitening procedures

Coronal polishing, which means removing soft deposits such as plaque, gives teeth a cleaner appearance. In sealant application, a dental assistant paints a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities. Fluoride application, in which fluoride is put directly on the teeth, is another anti-cavity measure.

Each state regulates the scope of practice for dental assistants.


Modified from Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-2017 Edition, Dental Assistants, on the Internet at (visited May 24, 2016).