COVID-19 Response and Reopening

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.


Please visit our dental assisting careers webpage for salary and employment information.


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).