This article contains information about how to get training as a dental assistant. You will learn about various career options today for dental assistants and how to go about getting a certificate or degree in the field. Also included is information about obtaining dental assistant certification to expand your work opportunities.
What Is a Dental Assistant?
Dental assistants perform basic dentist office duties that can range from patient care to taking X-rays, to administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments and keeping accurate patient records. Duties can vary by state and by dentist office.
Some of the most common duties dental assistant perform are:
- Prepare the patient and the dental room for treatments and procedures to be performed
- Keep dental instruments sterile
- Assist dentists by providing them with instruments and information during dental procedures
- Keep the mouth of the patient dry with suction hoses and other types of equipment
- Provide patients with information about correct oral hygiene
- Process X-rays and complete laboratory tasks
- Maintain records of dental treatments
- Schedule appointments for patients
- Work with patients on payment and billing matters
Why Get a Dental Assistant Certificate or Degree?
While some states do not require dental assistants to attend an accredited dental assistant program and to pass an examination, many do. Also, you will be more likely to get a job as a dental assistant in any case if you do have proper training and have passed the necessary certification exam.
It is a wise career move to obtain your training for a career in dental assisting because job growth in the field will be rapid in the next decade. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that employment in the field will increase by a healthy 18% by 2024.
BLS reports that ongoing research that connects oral health and general health will continue, and this will drive more need for dental health services. Preventative services such as regular cleanings also will become more common. It is expected that dentists will continue to hire more qualified dental assistants to complete basic office and dental tasks. This allows dentists to see more patients and to spend more of their time on more complex dental procedures.
Also, our aging population will need more dental procedures as they live longer. Because of better dental care, more older people are able to keep more teeth than people did decades ago, so there will be greater need for dental assistants to work with these patients.
Training Programs for Dental Assistants
Dental assistant training programs are offered by vocational schools and community colleges. Most of these programs require one year to complete, and will result in a certificate or diploma.
There are some programs that require two years to complete and result in an associate’s degree. As you are looking at various dental assistant training programs, it is recommended to look for programs that have been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation or CODA. This organization is part of the American Dental Association.
For example, Everest College offers a two semester dental assistant certificate program that with provide students with the education, training and experience needed to qualify for most entry-level dental assistant jobs in the US. Everest College has dozens of campuses throughout the US, and you can be ready to work in this growing field in under a year.
The courses in this program cover the vital topics in the dental assistant field, such as:
- Dental office emergencies
- Dental specialties
- Laboratory procedures
- Dental anatomy and orthodontics
- Dental radiography
- Operatory dentistry
Also covered are courses on basic body systems and functions; oral anatomy; chairside assisting; dental science, dental materials; career development and office applications.
This program features classes in a traditional lecture setting that includes group projects as well as hands-on training in a simulated dentist’s office. Students are trained in vital radiographic, clinical and administrative procedures. Students also will learn how to use the common clinical and diagnostic equipment that are in the typical dental office today. Some of these include:
- Dental units and chairs
- Model trimmers
- Oral evacuation equipment
- Oxygen tanks
- Personal computers and dental software
- Ultrasonic units
- X-ray machines
At the end of the program, students also have a required externship where they work for a month at a real dentist’s office.
About Certification Examinations
To become certified after you have completed your program, dental assistants need to pass an exam that evaluates their level of knowledge. Most dental assistants opt for national certification by taking the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination that is administered by the Dental Assisting National Board or DANB.
This examination takes approximately four hours and has 320 test questions. Dental assistants need to score 400 or better in these areas:
- General chairside questions: 120
- Radiation health and safety: 100
- Infection control: 100
Not every state will necessarily require certification, but dental assistants with certification will be in line for the best job opportunities.
Students who plan to attend a dental assistant program are recommended to select a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation or CODA. This is the national accrediting agency for dental and dental-related educational programs. CODA has a very rigorous, peer-review accreditation system that evaluates the quality of hundreds of dental education programs in the US.
Students who attend a CODA-accredited program may be assured that they are receiving a quality education that will provide them with the necessary skills to succeed in the dental assisting field.
The dental assistant field is growing quickly, and it offers you the possibility of earning a good salary after only one or two semesters of training. Dental assistants who obtain training, certification and significant work experience may eventually decide to earn a bachelor’s degree and work as dental hygienists, which is a rapidly growing, well paid career in itself.
- Dental Assistants. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm#tab-6
- Everest College. Dental Assistant Program. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.everest.edu/programs/category/dental-assistant
- Commission on Dental Accreditation Accredited Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.ada.org/en/coda/find-a-program