Periodontist Assistant Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a periodontist assistant career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a periodontist assistant is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Periodontist Assistant

Periodontist assistants are dental assistants who work in periodontology, a specialized field of dentistry that focuses on preventing and treating gum disease. Find out more about the pros and cons of being a periodontist assistant to discover if this career is right for you.

Pros of a Periodontist Assistant Career
Job prospects for dental assistants are good, with a 25% employment increase projected from 2012-2022*
Variety - periodontist assistants usually perform both office and clinical tasks**
Flexible work schedules are available - as of 2012, one in three dental assistants worked part-time*
Work environment is people oriented, clean and well lit *

Cons of a Periodontist Assistant Career
With a median annual salary of $35,000 as of May 2014, pay for dental assistants is relatively low*
Licensing or registration is required in some states*
May have to work evenings or weekends, depending on dental office hours*
May need to take precautions to avoid exposure to infectious diseases*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Dental Association.

Career Info

Job Description and Career Options

All dental assistants, including periodontist assistants, may be responsible for assisting during surgery or other procedures. Your job description may also include processing x-rays, sterilizing equipment and preparing the materials needed to produce dental impressions or restorations. In addition, you may be required to provide direct patient care, including taking a patient's pulse and blood pressure, asking about medical history, keeping patients comfortable during surgery and informing them about postoperative procedures and care. Other responsibilities could include maintaining patient records, scheduling appointments, working with suppliers and managing billing. The BLS reports that nearly all dental assistants work in dentists' offices, although the American Dental Association (ADA) points out that they may also be employed in dental schools, clinics, hospitals or public health departments.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The BLS projected that dental assistants would enjoy a faster-than-average employment growth rate of 25% from 2012-2022. Since dental assisting is a fairly large occupation, this translates into a projected total of about 74,000 new jobs during this time period. The median annual salary for dental assistants (including periodontist assistants) was about $35,000 as of May 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

The requirements to become a dental assistant vary by state. Some states have no formal education or licensing requirements for this profession, although they may regulate the specific tasks you're allowed to perform. Other states require dental assistants to complete an accredited training program and pass an exam. Qualifying programs usually result in a diploma or certificate, and they typically take one year to complete. In some states, you'll need to obtain the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To qualify, you must pass an exam and earn a CPR certification. Before taking the exam, you must also demonstrate that you've either graduated from an accredited dental assisting program or finished high school and completed 3,500 hours of dental assisting work experience over a 2-4 year period.

Essential Skills

Dental assistants, including periodontist assistants, must be detail oriented and well organized so that they can follow medical protocols correctly and ensure patients' safety. In addition, they must have good interpersonal skills, since they are often responsible for ensuring that patients feel comfortable and welcome in the dentist's office.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Based on a sample of job postings from March of 2012, some employers prefer to hire periodontist assistants who have related work experience and computer skills. Here are some job ads to give you an idea of what employers are looking for:

  • A dental practice in San Diego sought an experienced periodontist assistant to provide patient care and perform administrative duties, including maintaining equipment and clinical supplies. A high school diploma and state licensure were required, along with x-ray and CPR certifications.
  • A Washington, D.C., dentist's office advertised for an assistant to help the periodontist during treatment procedures, take x-rays, apply fluoride and sealants, prepare and pour dental impressions, sterilize instruments and teach oral hygiene practices to patients. Minimum qualifications for the job included a high school diploma and strong computer skills.
  • A multi-specialty dental office in Massachusetts sought an experienced part-time dental assistant to help its periodontist. Preferred qualifications included good communication skills, familiarity with Dentrix software and knowledge of digital x-ray techniques.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

If your state does not have formal education requirements for dental assistants, completing a dental assisting program may improve your job prospects, since this qualification is preferred by some employers. Also, even in states that don't require it, some employers still prefer to hire candidates with the CDA credential. You might also consider becoming an Expanded Function Dental Assistant if your state offers this or a comparable credential. Earning this designation will allow you to perform a broader range of duties, which may make you stand out as an asset to potential employers.

You may also be able to improve your career prospects by enhancing your computer skills or learning Spanish, since these qualifications are preferred by some employers and required by others. The DALE Foundation (a DANB affiliate) also suggests that joining the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) can be an effective way to network and increase your career potential.

Other Careers to Consider

Dental Insurance Claims Processor or Adjuster

If you have a knack for dental terminology, but you don't want to work chair-side, you may consider becoming a dental insurance claims processor or adjuster. According to the BLS, a medical background is useful for insurance workers who deal with medical claims. A high school diploma is sufficient for many jobs, but most states also require some form of licensure. The BLS reported that the median salary for insurance claims adjusters and processors was much higher than that for dental assistants, at about $59,000 in 2011. Overall job growth this field is predicted to be below average, though, at just 3% from 2010-2020.

Dental Product Sales Representative

If you're persuasive and confident, and you have strong listening and interpersonal skills, you may be able to apply your knowledge of dental products and services in the field of sales. There are no formal educational requirements to become a sales representative, but experience is valued. The median salary for sales reps was $54,000 as of May 2011, which is quite a bit higher than that for dental assistants. The BLS reported that job growth is expected to be average in this field from 2010-2020.

Dental Office Manager

If you'd prefer to focus on administrative duties instead of direct patient care, you may consider becoming a dental office manager. According to the DALE Foundation, your job may involve hiring and supervising employees, along with bookkeeping and accounting. Though there are typically no formal education requirements to be an office manager, on-the-job training is usually necessary. According to the BLS, office managers (including those working in dental offices) earned a median annual salary of approximately $49,000 in May 2011, and the employment growth rate for this occupation was expected to be about average from 2010-2020.

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