Do you like working with people in a caring, clean professional environment?
Then a career in oral health will provide skills and knowledge leading to many workforce opportunities.
If you are from outside of Australia, please see our Working in Australia as a Dental Assistant article.
What is a Dental Assistant?
Briefly, a dental assistant is someone who assists a range of oral health professionals such as Dentists, Dental Specialists, Oral Health Therapists, Dental Hygienists and Dental Prosthetists. Dental Assistants can undertake administrative tasks such as reception, appointment scheduling, payment and receipts as well as clinical management and chairside assisting. Dental Assistants work as a multiskilled member of a dental team, and can also work in management, health promotion and policy development roles.
What skills do I need?
• good manual dexterity
• good communication skills
• able to multi task
• good organisational skills
• able to work as part of a team.
What do dental assistants do?
• Welcome patients and prepare them for dental procedures
• Schedule appointments
• Manage phone enquiries and triage dental emergencies
• Prepare equipment and materials for use in dental treatment
• Assist the dentist using four-handed technique to pass items
• Set up and operate highly technical equipment
• Manage client records, operate office technology using dental software programs
• Use personal protective equipment
• Process dental radiographs (x-rays) and operate digital imaging equipment
• Maintain high infection control protocols and prevent cross-contamination
• Clean, package and process re-usable items for sterilization
• Undertake stock control and ordering of items
• Office administration and payment processing
• Contribute to an efficient high quality health care service observing confidentiality and patient well-being
• Ensure workplace safety for clients and colleagues
You will be an essential part of a highly skilled and respected oral health team. Dental assistants are the first point of contact for patients and have the opportunity to ensure the practice is welcoming and provides an excellent quality of care.
Where can Dental Assistants work?
Private practices and Corporate Dental Companies employ dental assistants in full time, part-time or casual positions. Public Health Services operate dental clinics in hospitals, schools or community based clinics, and dental assistants work with oral health therapists and dentists in these positions. Correctional Services, Defence forces and some aged care facilities provide oral health services and employ staff for these positions.Mobile dental clinics travel to aged care facilities and rural and remote areas providing dental treatment.
There is no formal training required of entry level dental assistants in order to commence or undertake work in private practice in Australia. However, there is a vocational qualification which is highly recommended for increasing your job prospects and remuneration and your own professional development. This qualification (HLT35021 Certificate III in Dental Assisting) is available through registered training organisations such as the Dental Assistants Professional Association.
The HLT35021 Certificate III in Dental Assisting may also be offered as a traineeship in most States of Australia and as a School based Traineeship for years 11 and 12 in some States.
Currently dental assistants are not required to be registered under the Dental Board of Australia or with any State and Territory Boards. Dental Assistants who have attained a Certificate IV in Dental Assisting – Dental Radiography and are required to operate dental radiography apparatus as part of their job role, must hold a current license with the relevant state or territory Radiation Authority.
Requirements for work entry
You are strongly encouraged to have current vaccination for Hepatitis B, Influenza, and Tetanus along with the normal childhood vaccination recommendations (Measles, mumps, varicella, polio). Many state and territory public health care facilities and training providers will require students and workers to present evidence of Hepatitis B immunity and the results of a criminal history check prior to commencing clinical placement. Most private dental clinics will also require employees to have current vaccination records and may also require workers to undertake annual influenza vaccinations. Recently COVID-19 vaccinations were added to this list as strongly recommended for dental staff and practitioners
Who will provide my training?
Most dental assistants will gain practical experience at their place of employment. However, achieving the national qualification is highly recommended to enhance your knowledge and understanding of the role and responsibilities expected of a dental assistant. The National Vocational Qualification is HLT35021 Certificate III in Dental Assisting. This is the base level of vocational training for dental assisting. Dental Assistants who wish to further their skills and duties may then undertake HLT45021 Certificate IV in Dental Assisting and elect units from particular streams such as dental radiography, oral health promotion, practice administration, general anaesthesia and conscious sedation.
Only registered training organisations can deliver these qualifications. The Dental Assistants Professional Association (DAPA) is a registered training organization with ASQA (Australian Skills Quality Authority) (RTO Provider No 90424) and is approved to deliver HLT35021 Certificate III in Dental Assisting. This Association specializes in dental assistant training and has provided the industry with excellence in course delivery for over 40 years.
As the National representative body for dental assistants in Australia we are dedicated entirely to this industry and promote a high standard of training and experience which is well acknowledged in this profession. DAPA is also approved under the NSW Department of Education & Communities to deliver both School Based Apprenticeships & Traineeships (SBAT) and work based Traineeships to eligible students in NSW. All course notes and assignment work will be provided and you will have a tutor who will guide and support you through your course. Further information is available from our office (02 9569 3220) or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Wages and entitlements
It is important when applying for a position as a dental assistant to be aware of the award or conditions which will cover your employment. Before accepting a position ensure you have details of:
o The type of position – permanent part-time, full time or casual
o The hours required each week
o The job role or duties you are to perform - specifically
o If paid above award rates, are there any additional duties or expectations which are included? For example, is overtime included in the above award payment?
o Is there a probationary period for your employment
o When will your wage be reviewed or job role reviewed
Most dental assistants employed in private dental practices will be covered by the modern award for health professionals and support services – MA000027. This award can be downloaded freely from https://www.fwc.gov.au/documents/documents/modern_awards/pdf/MA000027.pdf. Public Health have their own state and territory awards for dental assisting.
You should also read the national employment standards which support all modern awards.
Health Fund Clinics and large company employers may be covered by an enterprise agreement and this will be specific to the employer organisation eg HCF. Public Health dental clinics will use the relevant State or Territory Public Health Award.
An average commencement wages for an untrained dental assistant who is new to the industry may commence at $15.00 per hour (traineeship wages may be less) and increase to over $30.00 per hour for an experienced and qualified dental assistant.
There is an increasing demand for dental assistants as more people access dental care and more registered practitioners are now graduating from university. This job role has been identified as one of the fastest growing opportunities over the last five years and holds excellent prospects for career advancement.
Need more information?
Your professional association, The Dental Assistants Professional Association, offers membership and advice to dental assistants throughout Australia. It represents and consults with the profession in areas of industrial advice, vocational training, professional development, government bodies and support for members.