Demand for workers in the dental services industry is likely to be influenced by the ageing population. In the next 20 years, the over 65 population is expected to increase by 84%*.

Meeting the oral health needs of the growing older population in New Zealand will require a diverse and capable workforce. The adoption of new dental technologies and techniques with less focus on dentures and an expectation that people keep their teeth for life is expected to influence demand. Other influencers are the deterioration in oral health evident in some groups of young children, Particularly in Māori and Pacific populations **.

Becoming a Dental Assistant is a great stepping stone to a career in dentistry or to pathway to other medical careers.

What’s involved in being a dental assistant

Dental assistants help dentists with patient care and the running of dental practices. You’ll work alongside a dentist providing support to both them and the patient. You’ll usually work in a dental surgery, clinic, hospital or health centre. Work is usually during normal business hours.

A typical day for a dental assistant 

Dental assistants may do some or all of the following:

    • welcome patients and prepare them for treatment.
    • prepare materials for fillings.
    • clean instruments.
    • provide dentist with instruments and materials as required.
    • develop x-rays.
    • produce moulds of patients’ teeth.
    • complete infection prevention and control processes and procedures.
    • educate people about oral health and disease prevention.
    • perform reception and clerical duties, such as ordering dental and office supplies.


Dental assistants need to be:

  • good with people of all ages and able to communicate effectively.
  • friendly, patient and understanding.
  • able to work well under pressure.
  • able to follow instructions.
  • quick and efficient.


Dental assistants need to have knowledge of:

  • basic dentistry and hygiene.
  • dental materials and technical vocabulary.
  • how to use and care for dental equipment, including sterilisation procedures.
  • dental surgery procedures, including the use of sedatives and anaesthetics.

How to become a qualified Dental Assistant

You learn to become a dental assistant through on the job training supported by Careerforce, so you will need to be employed. Your employer can help you gain relevant, practical qualifications while gaining experience in a work environment. Assessment is carried out by assessors within the workplace.

Career Journey


At School Introductory Roles Advancing Roles Leadership Roles/Senior Roles
  Role Titles Role Titles Role Titles
Social Sciences
Dental Assistant
Dental Surgery AssistantOrthodontic Auxiliary
Dental TechnicianDental Laboratory Assistant
Dental Therapist
Dental Hygienist
Paediatric dentist
Clinical Dental Technician
Qualifications Qualifications Qualifications
Gateway SubjectsFollow the Purple Pathway (Social and Community Services) New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Level 3) Dental Assistance

Orthodontic Auxiliary Training
Tertiary qualifications Tertiary qualifications

More information

Read more about Dental Assistance qualifications

New Zealand Certificate in Health and Wellbeing (Level 3) Dental Assistance 

In employment

  • Talk to your employer
  • Contact 0800 277 486 and talk to our Apprenticeship and Vocational Pathways Advisors at Careerforce

Still at school?

  • Talk to your Careers Advisor
  • Contact 0800 277 486 and talk to our Apprenticeship and Vocational Pathways Advisors at Careerforce

**source: The New Zealand Health Workforce: A stocktake of capacity and issues

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