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Dental Assistant Education Requirements

What do Dental Assistants do?

The Dental Assistant works as an aide to the dentist, assisting in treatment procedures, preparing and sterilizing instruments and equipment, taking and developing x-rays, performing laboratory procedures, educating patients before and after treatment, and doing a number of administrative tasks such as making appointments and keeping patient records. Depending on the level of training received, the dental assistant can also assist in more complex clinical procedures such as placing or removing temporary fillings or sizing and fitting temporary crowns.

A person trained in dental assisting can also branch off into specialty practices such as orthodontics (straightening teeth), endodontics (root canal), periodontics (gum problems) or prosthodontics (replacing lost teeth). Workplace settings may be the dentist’s office, a group practice office or a hospital or dental school clinic. Related jobs are in education and public health, dental insurance work and sales and supplies companies.

The effective dental assistant is someone who has an interest in working with people, has good eye-hand coordination, is precise and thorough with an eye for detail, and has communication and interpersonal skills.

How Does One Train to Become a Dental Assistant?

dental assistant education requirementsGenerally, the safest route to acquire dental assisting credentials is to attend and graduate from an institution which is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) of the American Dental Association. There are approximately 250 schools nationwide that hold this accreditation.

There are formal dental assisting programs in vocational schools, community colleges, technical institutes, universities or dental schools, some of which offer online alternatives. Most programs offer training over 8 to 11 months to confer an associate of science degree in dental assisting. Some have programs that extend for two years. There are also shorter programs of 8 to 10 weeks which provide only the basics of dental assisting; these programs are generally not accredited by CODA but may meet other state dental assistant education requirements. Graduates of these nonacccredited programs would not qualify to take the certification test given by the Dental Assistant National Board.

Coursework will involve the areas of dental science such as head, neck and oral anatomy and physiology, oral histology and tooth morphology. Also included will be instrumentation, infection control, radiography, dental materials, chairside assisting and dental office management. An extended externship of 250 to 350 hours completes the training when the student works with dentists, experienced dental assistants and dental hygienists in actual dental settings. Some programs feature hands-on experience throughout the program.

Applying for entrance into a dental assisting program

Two things should be kept in mind when applying for a dental assisting program. First, that the application is a lengthy process which may require tests (reading, writing, English and math), immunizations, criminal checks, CPR certification, visits to dental assisting sites followed by a written report, and prior courses. Second, the number of openings into the program is generally small—usually 20 to 30 in a given year. If you are considering dental assisting training, you should therefore research colleges and programs much in advance of when you plan to attend, and prepare carefully to meet the admission requirements. Dental health programs require a huge expenditure in equipment, laboratory facilities and training personnel; they will be very careful and selective in accepting students who will complete the program with success.

Certification and Licensing Requirements

The requirements for working as a dental assistant varies from state to state. You can check with the constituent dental organization of the < a href=”http://www.ada.org/stateorganizations.aspx”>American Dental Association< /a> for your state to inquire about the requirements that will apply for you. Dental assisting schools in your state should also be able to answer this question.

All CODA accredited institutions will prepare you to take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination that is given by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). This is a national certification that will be recognized in all fifty states, and assures the hiring dentist that you have the training and knowledge specified by the American Dental Association. Uncertified persons can take this examination after two years of full time experience as dental assistants. In addition, some states may have further licensing requirements or options. As examples, dental assisting graduates can become a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) by taking the Michigan State Board of Dentistry Examination or the California State Registered Dental Assisting Examination in those states.

DNAB certification is good for one year and should be renewed by completing continuing education credits. A number of agencies including the < a href=”http://www.dentalassistant.org/Content/Details/CourseCatalog”>American Dental Assistants Association< /a> offer continuing education courses without charge.

Job Outlook and Salaries

The job outlook for dental assistants is extremely good. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 25 per cent growth of this profession between 2012 and 2022, which is much faster than average. The median salary in 2012 was $34,500, or $16.59 per hour. There are not many careers at this level of training that holds such good prospects. It will be well worth the hard work in searching and applying for, and completing a rigorous program when there is a promise of a good job market. As a trained dental assistant, you will be helping people to maintain good dental health.

American Dental Assistants Association, “Who Is The Dental Assistant?” http://www.dentalassistant.org/Content/Details/WhoIsTheDentalAssistant (accessed February 22, 2014).
American Dental Association, “Dental Assistant: Education/Training Requirements,” http://ada.org/359.aspx (accessed February 22, 2014).
American Dental Association, “Search Dental Assisting, Hygiene and Lab Technology Programs,” http://www.ada.org/5500.aspx (accessed February 22, 2014).
Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Dental Assistants,” http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Dental-assistants.htm (accessed February 22, 2014).
Dental Assisting National Board, Inc., “Become Certified, http://www.danb.org/Become-Certified.aspx (accessed February 22, 2014).