Learn the Differences of a Medical and Dental Assistant

Dental and medical assistants are both responsible for supporting a licensed doctor. However, there are some key differences between the two positions.

This article covers what dental assistants and medical assistants do, the skills and education required, and how a dental assistant course differs from a medical assistant’s.

Dental Assistant

Dental assistants help dentists care for patients by providing both administrative support and hands-on assistance. This may include patient scheduling, record keeping, and filing insurance claims. In addition, training from a dental assistant course empowers them to:

  • Prepare patients, instruments, and tools for dental procedures, including cleanings, extractions, root canals, and crown replacements.
  • Process x-rays of a patient’s mouth and jaw.
  • Maintain accurate and complete patient records.
  • Manage patient billing and process payments from patients and insurance companies.
  • Perform proper sterilization according to health and safety standards and regulations.
  • Hand the proper instruments and tools to the dentist during different parts of the procedure.
  • Manage inventory and supply orders.
  • Educate patients on proper oral hygiene.

Medical Assistant

Medical assistants work with physicians and other healthcare professionals in hospitals, urgent care centers, and other settings. Medical assistants may perform clinical or administrative duties depending on their education and employer’s needs. Their education enables them to:

  • Take patients’ temperatures, blood pressures, and pulses.
  • Assist physicians with patient exams and procedures.
  • Schedule appointments for patients and doctors, which may include diagnostic labs, specific procedures, and check-ups.
  • Maintain patient records under HIPAA standards.
  • Oversee the office’s inventory of medical supplies and reordering as needed.
  • Collect specimens from patients, which may include blood, urine, or saliva, to process diagnostic lab tests.
  • Prepare patients and their rooms for the doctor’s visit.
  • Sterilize equipment, tools, and instruments.
  • Process insurance claims and collect payment from patients.
  • Administer medication under the direction and supervision of physicians or nurse practitioners.
  • Work overtime, nights, weekends, and holidays for long periods, depending on the needs of the health care facility.


Candidates must have good communication, organization, and time management skills when applying for the position. They should also be dependable and can work well with a team. It is also helpful if they have good attention to detail and are compassionate listeners.

Dental assistants must also have manual dexterity to safely maneuver instruments inside patients’ mouths. They should also be able to use a computer system to chart a patient’s history, collect a payment, and schedule appointments. Other technical skills for dental assistants include administering x-rays, fluoride treatments, and restorative procedures.

On the other hand, medical assistants must be capable of administering patient care and CPR, providing patient education, checking vital signs, maintaining electronic medical records, using medical coding, and facilitating electrocardiogram (EKG) testing.

Medical and dental assistants also require training and certification despite their acquisition through different government bodies. The former can get one from the AAMA (American Association of Medical Assistants) since they offer a CMA or Certified Medical Assistant certification. The latter must be certified as a CDA or Certified Dental Assistant through the DANB (Dental Assistant National Board).

Apply Now at Northwest Suburban College

Are you interested in a promising health sciences career? Enroll today at Northwest Suburban College for a dental assistant course that takes only eight months to complete, including eight weeks of practical training. Visit our website to know more!

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