What Education is Needed to Become a Dental Assistant?

If you’re considering a career as a dental assistant, you might be wondering what kind of education you need. Let’s take a look at what you’ll need to get started in this rewarding field.

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Dental Assisting Education

In order to become a dental assistant, you will need to complete a dental assistant education program. These programs are typically offered at community colleges and technical schools. Most programs will take about one year to complete and will include both classroom and laboratory instruction.

Dental Assisting Programs

A wide array of programs are available to become a dental assistant, ranging from certification programs that can be completed in less than a year to two-year Associate’s Degree programs. Some community colleges, technical colleges, and dental schools offer formal dental assisting programs. These programs are often accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and lead to certification or an Associate’s Degree upon completion. Many times, these accredited programs include clinical experience in addition to coursework, which can provide valuable hands-on training. Some states require dental assistants to be licensed or registered, which may also require completing an accredited dental assisting program. Alternatively, some employers may provide on-the-job training for those individuals who do not have any previous experience working in a dental office. However, these opportunities may be limited.

Dental Assisting Certification

Dental Assisting Certification is the process by which a student becomes a certified dental assistant.

There are generally two ways to become a certified dental assistant:

1) Complete an accredited dental assisting program and pass the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) exams, or
2) Pass the DANB exams without completing an accredited dental assisting program.

If you choose to complete an accredited dental assisting program, you will likely take courses such as applied sciences, infection control, radiography, dental materials, chairside assisting, oral anatomy and physiology, and community oral health. Many programs also include externships or clinical experiences to give students first-hand experience working in a dental office. Once you have completed your accredited dental assistant program, you will then need to pass the DANB exams to earn your certification.

If you choose not to complete an accredited dental assistantship program, you can still become a certified dental assistant by passing the DANB exams. In order to be eligible to take the exams, you must have completed certain coursework related to infection control and applied sciences, as well as have a certain amount of chairside experience working with patients in a dental office. Once you have met all eligibility requirements and passed the DANB exams, you will earn your certification and be able to work as a certified dental assistant.

Dental Assisting Job Duties

A dental assistant is a vital part of every dentist’s team. They are responsible for a variety of tasks, from sterilizing dental equipment to taking x-rays to scheduling appointments. Dental assistants need to be detail-oriented, have good manual dexterity, and be able to work well under pressure. A high school diploma is usually all that is needed to become a dental assistant, although some jobs may require additional training.

Dental Assisting Salary

Dental Assistants Job Duties: Set up and prepare patients and equipment for dental procedures. Assist dentists in providing dental treatment. Record patients’ medical histories and vital statistics. Clean teeth and instruct patients on oral hygiene. Expose, process, and mount dental radiographs (x-rays). Perform office duties as needed.

The median annual wage for dental assistants was $36,940 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,660, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $50,180.

Dental Assisting Job Outlook

Dental assistants held about 297,700 jobs in 2012. The majority of dental assistants worked in dental offices, including general dentists’, orthodontists’, and oral surgeons’ offices. Dental assistants also work in offices of other health practitioners, such as physicians and chiropractors. A small number worked in hospitals, nursing homes, residential care facilities, colleges and universities, dental laboratories, and corporate settings.

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