delegation, dental assistant, On the Job, Professional Identity, Scope of Practice

Medical Assistants in Dental Offices

This blog frequently discusses scope-of-practice issues, but health care always provides new questions to examine. This post will address the following: Are medical assistants permitted to work in a dental office under the authority/supervision of a dentist?

First of all, it is important to keep in mind the distinction between a dental hygienist and a dental assistant. Under the laws of all American jurisdictions, dental hygienists are required to be licensed. Licensure for dental hygienists requires graduation from a postsecondary dental hygiene academic program and the passing of a national (and in some cases, state) examination. Thus, medical assistants—including CMAs (AAMA)—are not permitted to work as dental hygienists.

Under the laws of some states, dental assistants are required to have formal education and pass a test in order to be delegated certain tasks by the overseeing/delegating dentist. Other states have no educational or testing requirements for dental assistants. A medical assistant should check with the state board of dental examiners (usually in the state capital) to find out whether the state has any educational or testing requirements for dental assistants, and whether any of the medical assisting education or credentialing can be used toward meeting any state requirements for dental assistants.