What’s the Difference Between Chairside and Intra-Oral Dental Assisting?

By Linda Galeazzi
  5 Min Read
What’s the Difference Between Chairside and Intra-Oral Dental Assisting?

Prospective students often ask the question, “What’s the difference between a chairside and an intra-oral dentist assistant?” Here’s a quick rundown that should help clarify any confusion between the two and help you apply for the right program.

Chairside Dental Assistants

First, some clarification: what we call “chairside dental assistants” are actually Level 1 dental assistants. They’re referred to as chairside dental assistants because they are the ones who sit by your chair, relax you before dental procedures and hand the dentist the proper equipment during appointments. They also sterilize equipment, prepare dental materials and cement, process and mount radiographs and pour and trim cast molds.

What Does A Chairside Dental Assistant Do?

Chairside assistants have a ton of duties that include welcoming the patient and making them comfortable, guiding them to the exam room, taking X-rays, prepping the exam room, etc. On the more clerical side, chairside dental assistants provide patients with post-operative instructions, schedule and confirm appointments, manage patient records, receive payments from patients, and order supplies.

How To Become A Chairside Dental Assistant? 

Those who graduate from an approved chairside dental assistant college program are encouraged to contact the Dental Assisting Regulatory Authority in the province they intend to work in for details regarding licensure requirements, including the need to hold the National Dental Assisting Examining Board (NDAEB) certificate. The institution where you’re training to become a Level I dental assistant will be able to provide you with all the information you need to get the certification you need in your province.

Intra-Oral Dental Assistants

Intra-oral dental assistants are Level II dental assistants who perform all of the same duties as we described above, but they have the additional intra-oral training required to handle a number of responsibilities that relate more specifically to the patient’s dental care.

What Does An Intra-Oral Dental Assistant Do? 

All intra-oral dental assistants have already completed both Level I and Level II training. The latter allows them to, among other things, do mechanical polishing of the coronal portion of the teeth, place and remove rubber dams, take impressions of preliminary impressions of the teeth for study models, apply topical anti-cariogenic agents as well as materials required to prepare the surface of the teeth for pit and fissure sealants, apply anesthetics or desensitizing agents, whiten the coronal portion of the teeth, and more.

How To Become An Intra-Oral Dental Assistant? 

Level II or intra-oral assistants must fulfill all National Dental Assisting Examining Board (NDAEB) exam requirements in order to have their skills and training recognized. The NDAEB certificate is required for all dental assistants in all provinces, except Quebec. Level II dental assisting college programs are designed specifically to give you the skills needed to be certified by the NDAEB.

So Which One Is Right For You?

Level II intra-oral dental assistants have a slightly higher hourly wage than Level I chairside dental assistants, with salaries for both increasing with experience and the passage of time. Both are consistently in demand. However, if you’re interested in a career in dental assisting, the questions you really should ask yourself are:

  • Do you prefer the more social aspects of a career that you would have as a chairside assistant?
  • Would you prefer to have that interaction with patients and often be the face and voice of the dental office when patients call for information or come in for appointments? 
  • Do you like the idea of helping a nervous patient relax and comforting them during procedures? 

If so, you can complete the Level I training and take the time to see if the responsibilities of your new career are rewarding and fit your personality. You can always go back to college for additional training later.

Alternatively, on the other side of the fence: 

  • Do you prefer having more direct involvement in a patient’s dental care? 
  • Do you love the more direct approach to dental assisting, where you can get more involved in the actual procedures? 

If so, you can enroll in a Level II intra-oral dental assisting program and get the training and certification you need to take on a role that’s more hands-on and has a different set of responsibilities.

Some of the colleges that offer one or both of these dental assisting programs include:

  • Medix College
  • Everest College
  • National Academy of Health and Business
  • Trillium College
  • Northern Alberta Institute of Technology

Are There Any Student Aid Programs?

Of course, there are. You can not only take your pick from federal scholarships and bursaries, but you can also make use of provincial funding options as well. This naturally depends on the state you live in and the post-secondary educational institution you apply to. Of course, if scholarships and bursaries don’t work, you can always opt for loans and grants to fund your dental career. 

Where Are The Jobs?

Hospitals and dental clinics (private or public) are primarily where the jobs are at when it comes to being either a chairside dental assistant or an intra-oral dental assistant. Unless you become a professional dentist, you can start your own dental practice. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Got questions concerning dental assistance programs? Here are answers to some common queries –

How much do dental assistants earn on average?

Chairside dental assistants earn about $18 per hour, whereas intra-oral dental assistants can make anywhere between $18 and $25 per hour.

Where in Canada do dental assistants make the most money?

Edmonton records the highest salary for dental assistants in all of Canada, going up to as much as $28.71 per hour. Other places where you can earn well include Calgary, Ottawa, Winnipeg, and Hamilton. 

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