Skip to content

Am I in a dead-end career?

You are not the first person working as a dental assistant – or many other careers, for that matter – to ask if you have chosen correctly and if your career path is one that will take you forward.

Dental assisting is a profession that requires you to display a varied skills set, from interacting with patients to hands-on participation in assisting oral health practitioners.

Your duties will include the following activities:

  1. Preparing and managing the dental clinical environment before, during and after patient care;
  2. Sterilising instruments, and disinfecting surfaces and equipment in the dental environment;
  3. Monitoring infection control, sterilisation processes, biological, medical and/ or bio-hazardous waste management within the dental environment;
  4. Preparing dental materials and instruments (including dental hand pieces) for use in clinical procedures performed by the oral health practitioner;
  5. Assisting with the patient’s needs and comfort during dental treatment;
  6. Providing clinical assistance using four handed dentistry which includes instrument transfer, high speed suctioning and debridement techniques in procedures that are performed by an oral health practitioner;
  7. Recording patient data gathered during patient interviews, oral assessment of hard and soft tissues, and oral assessment of other oral structures during the treatment of the patient;
  8. Processing dental radiographs;
  9. Caring for and maintaining equipment used in the dental clinical environment.

Intricate knowledge and understanding of the work environment is vital to ensure that individuals are kept abreast of the ever-changing dynamics within their work environments.

In terms of personal and career development, a qualification is offered as a National Certificate by the Higher Education Institutions, the Central University of Technology, Free State.

The curriculum is currently under review for the purpose of creating an educational route to an Advanced Certificate which involves electives in speciality fields and their practice management in the second year.

Besides plentiful employment opportunities in the country and abroad, dental assistants can acquire qualifications offered over two years as technicians, resulting in the qualification being in a higher salary bracket based on the Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) e.g. Pharmacy Assistant and Technician.

If dental assistants are interested in pursuing a career in oral health, they can apply at a Higher Education Institution for a Bachelor’s Degree in Oral Hygiene Dental Therapy or Dentistry. You must meet the admission requirements as set by the institution. Being an experienced dental assistant would not give you automatic entry into one of the above mentioned professions, but it will certainly provide you with knowledgeable background and skill that would assist throughout your studies.

Coming back to the question: Is dental assisting a dead-end career? I would say, “Definitely not.” – By Ms T Mutibi


  1. Health Professions Act, 1974 (AC56 OF 1974), 11 March 2011, Accessed: 18/05/2016.

Last Updated on 5 September 2016 by HPCSA Corporate Affairs