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Dental Assistant Education

Are you the type of person who can be someone’s right hand person? Are you organized, efficient, and can handle multiple tasks at once? If this sounds like you, then a career as a dental assistant is likely to be an ideal fit for you! As a dental assistant you will work alongside a dentist during oral surgery or other involved dental procedures. It will likely be your responsibility to prepare the tools and instruments that will be necessary to perform the procedure; during the procedure it will be your job to hand the dentist the tools he or she needs. Depending upon your specific employer you may also be expected to record pertinent information in a patient’s chart, change barriers, and sterilize equipment. Often, you will be required to discuss proper dental hygiene with patients and inform them about the details of certain dental procedures. Start your research here and look into your dental assistant education. Although a formal degree or training program is not a requirement to work in this occupation, your employment opportunities are likely to be greater if you have completed some level of training program. It is common for aspiring dental assistants to pursue a certificate based program or an associate’s degree program; these are typically offered at local community colleges and vocational schools. Depending upon the specific type of program you choose, you can expect it to take you between one and two years to complete the requirements for a dental assistant program. Your coursework, which will contain classroom components and laboratory components, will consist of classes like dental materials, oral hygiene, and radiography.

Upon completion of your training program you may be required by your state to obtain licensure. Since the licensing requirements vary from one state to another, you will want to check into what is specifically required by your state of residence. Take a few minutes and check out the schools listed on the site. Request that any of the schools that are interesting to you send you a free information packet detailing their educational programs related to the field of dental assisting. This is sure to help you make an informed decision about which type of degree program best fits your educational and career goals. With your formal training program in dental assisting it may be possible for you to work alongside a dentist, an orthodontist, or an oral surgeon. In addition, furthering your educational degree you will be able to pursue employment as a dental hygienist in similar venues. See the top dental assisting programs listed below, you’ll find the perfect school.

Should You Become a Dental Assistant?

Are you thinking of becoming a dental assistant? You’ll come into contact daily with many different types of people who will depend on you for assurance while they sit in the dental chair. If you are friendly and deal well with people, the career of a dental assistant could be very rewarding for you. Besides calming their nerves, you’ll be informing patients about the importance of proper dental care. The dentist may be the one drilling, but you are the one soothing and teaching. You’ll make a huge difference in someone’s overall health. A dental assistant has plenty of on-the-job flexibility. You can work fulltime, part-time, or work part-time for two dentists. One-third of dental assistants chose to work part-time, which has tremendous advantages when there are children or other responsibilities in your life. People have become more aware of the importance of good dental hygiene and are visiting the dentist on a more regular basis than past generations. New governmental health plans now include dental plans, which means more people than ever are eligible for treatment. For a dental assistant, that translates into job security. It is anticipated that there will be a need for 30 percent more dental assistants in the next few years. There are more dental practices, and that means more jobs! These jobs come with medical, and, of course, dental insurance benefits, as well as sick days and vacations. The unemployment rate among dental assistants is a very low 2.8 percent.
What Does a Dental Assistant Do?
The average day of dental assistant can be very diverse, and specific duties can vary. As an important member of a dental office, he or she works closely with a dentist and/or dental hygienists to ensure that the dental practice runs smoothly. Some of the daily duties will be:
1. Scheduling appointments. This includes dealing with the concerns of patients, especially children.
2. Escorting people into the treatment room. It’s important for the dental assistant to calm nervous patients, especially children. Explaining the procedure to them can help patients be less afraid.
3. Laying out, organizing and sterilizing all necessary equipment.
4. Taking patients’ X-rays.
5. Performing clerical duties, perhaps in conjunction with a receptionist. This can include running the office and handling accounts receivables and accounts payable.
6. Assisting the dentist by handing him or her instruments and suctioning saliva.
7. Making impressions of teeth
8. Applying topical anesthesia
9. Preparing temporary crowns
10. Making a record of the patient’s dental history

Many dental practitioners practice four-handed dentistry, and it is exactly what it sounds like – the dentist and dental assistant work in tandem as a team. It’s literally four hands working together, and it’s an important dental technique with which the dental assistant should be familiar. Four-handed dentistry reduces the amount of time spent with each patient, thus allowing the dentist to see more patients and the dental assistant to be more effective. Dentist and dental assistant use hand movements to communicate as the assistant transfers needed instruments to the dentists. The more the dental assistant can anticipate the doctors needs and be prepared, the more invaluable she will become to the dental team as a whole.
Certificates for Dental Assistant
Not all states require dental assistants to be certified, but certification certainly helps in opening up job opportunities. Dental assistants have the option of obtaining a variety of certificates. The reason for these options is that the responsibility of dental assistants is expanding a great deal, and the certificates acknowledge the new level of education and training necessary to remain employable in this field. There are many areas of specialization for a dental assistant, and becoming specialized will add to his or her industry status. Not only has a specialist proven him or herself able to work as a basic dental assistant, but he or she can also work on specific and special problems. The basic Dental Chairside Assistant Certificate will prepare the dental assistant to perform the duties listed above. Not all states, however, allow dental assistants to take X-rays without a special X-ray certification. A Preventive Functions Dental Assistant Certificate will expand the responsibilities of the dental assistant to include coronal polishing and applying anesthetic, topical fluoride and sealants. Some states permit a dental assistant to perform these functions without certification, but becoming certified will elevate your status in the industry. The Preventive Functional Dental Assistant Certificate will greatly broaden your responsibilities in a dental office and is considered one of the most prestigious certificates in the industry.
Some states require a Radiation Health and Safety Certificate before a dental assistant can take X-rays.
Another certification for a dental assistant is the Certified Dental Assistant Orthodontic Certificate. This is a dental assistant who works specifically with patients in need of retainers, braces or mouth guards. This particular specialty usually enjoys a higher salary and job opportunities and requires a two-year degree prior to certification that includes courses in sterilization of equipment and radiography. A dental assistant assisting a licensed dentist in oral surgery requiring anesthesia is a dental anesthesia assistant and requires special certification. As a dental anesthesia assistant, you will be supervised by a dental surgeon in preparing and delivering intravenous anesthesia or medications to patients and deliver any needed emergency drugs as requested by the dentist. The supervisory dentist must be present at the facility at all times, but does not need to be in the operating room when you fulfill some of your duties. Your certification as a dental anesthesia assistant will be renewed annually at a fee of $75.00, and you must fulfill continuing education requirements. The curriculum will cover general anesthesia, basic sedation, emergency situations, as well as the pharmacology needed for anesthesia. General job functions of a dental anesthesia assistant are educating the patient about pre-and post-operative procedures, diagnosing X-ray results, monitoring the patient’s vital signs and fluids during surgery. A periodontal dental assistant works with gum diseases and also requires a special certificate. He or she will educate patients on proper oral hygiene and how to control this disease how to keep the disease from getting worse. He or she will help with plaque removal and other treatments. Prevention is an important part of the periodontal dental assistant’s job. Since periodontal procedures can be time-consuming, the assistant will explain what is happening and why. The average salary for a certified periodontal dental assistant is slightly higher than the base salary, close to $18.00 an hour. Surgical dental assistants assist with dental surgery. They may take X-rays and post them for the dental surgeon or monitor anesthesia and update patients’ charts. One of the primary functions of a surgical dental assistant is to prepare the area used for surgery and sterilize all equipment prior to any surgical procedure and organize the equipment during surgery. During surgery, the assistant will monitor vital signs and intravenous fluids. At times, he or she may apply topical anesthetics under the supervision of the dental surgeon. The surgical assistant will explain procedures to the patient prior to surgery and advise the patient on post-surgery procedures. Most surgical dental assistants will need an Associate’s degree and certification.

Dental Assistant Education

General Dental Assistant programs that prepare students for a certificate can last from six to twelve months, or around 45 credit hours. It is important to enroll in a program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. There are more than 250 programs from which to choose that will result in a solid dental assistant education that employers are looking for. Many vocational schools and community colleges offer these programs. A good program should include a combination of hands-on skill training and theory. A general curriculum will include classes in dental anatomy, oral diseases, dental diagnostics and prevention, care and sterilization of dental equipment, radiology and chair-side training.

One-year programs that prepare for certification will teach you what you need to know about the dental assistant job and nothing else. They are meant to prepare students for the Certified Dental Assistant examination that leads to certification. While there are states that do not require certificates, most of them do require exams. The tuition for a two-semester program can range from $1,500 to $7000, not including books and other material. A high school degree is required to enlist in any one of these programs. If you are in high school, it is a good idea to enroll in science, chemistry, biology, and computer classes, as well as classes to provide basic office skills. Another way to become certified is to complete 3,500 hours of actual work experience prior to taking the examination. A benefit to having a dental assistant certificate is a higher salary. On a national average, dental assistants without certification will earn $35,000 per year, while an assistant with a certificate will earn $38,000. As we have discussed, specialty certificates will also bring higher earnings and status.
Taking the Certified Dental Assistant Examination
You can prepare yourself for the exam by taking online practice tests. The Dental Assistant National Board (DANB) also has review material for standard and specialized examinations that can be accessed online. This preparation can add to your confidence before taking the actual exam. DANB has five different certifications available nationwide following successful passing of the examination:
1. National Entry Level Dental Assistant - $375.00
2. Certified Dental Assistant - $425.00
3. Certified Orthodontic Assistant - $425.00
4. Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant
5. Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant
The basic NELDA examination will consist of three parts:
1. Anatomy, Dental Terminology and Physiology - Test lasts for 80 minutes and consists of 105 multiple-choice questions. The cost is $225.00
2. Radiation Health and Safety - Test lasts for 75 minutes and consists of 100 multiple-choice questions. The cost is $250.00
3. Infectious Control exam - $250.00 last for 75 minutes and consists of 100 multiple-choice questions
Note that the cost for these exams are lower when taken together.

Dental Assistant Associates Degree

Why go for an Associates’ degree in Dental Assistant when it’s possible for get a job straight out of high school? As discussed, an Associate’s degree is necessary to become an Orthodontic Dental Assistant. However, there are many more career benefits to getting a two-year degree instead of a one-year diploma. An Associate’s degree has the same courses needed to assist a dentist and work with patients, but is also provides a broader curriculum in office management, recordkeeping, math, psychology and science. Since clerical duties can be a part of the dental assistant’s job description, the additional education can lead to expanded office managerial duties. Another reason to get an Associate’s degree is that it can prepare the path to career advancement as a dental hygienist. The minimum degree required for a dental hygienist is an Associate’s degree, while most continue on to a Bachelor’s degree. For a dental assistant interested in greater responsibility, this is a logical career path. An Associate degree will require around 60 credit hours, with a resultant salary of $35,000. If you move on to a Bachelor’s degree and train as a dental hygienist, the salary can increase to $70,000.
Online Dental Assistant Training
Online degrees are becoming extremely popular because of the flexibility they provide. There are currently three million degree candidates enrolled in online degree programs. Frequently, online degree programs are less expensive than traditional classroom studies, which is a tremendous advantage. In addition, there are the savings associated with commuting and parking. Students can schedule their studies to suit their own time schedule. All necessary course material can be accessed online. Online programs for dental assistants can range from one to two years. An associate program will include all the courses necessary for a one-year diploma, but will include a more administrative and specialized dental assistant curriculum. The necessary hands-on training will be conducted in designated laboratories and participating dental practices. The cost of a two-year degree program will range between $5,000 to $8,000. For a one-year diploma program, basic instrument care and general procedures and how to prepare an examination room will be covered. Some will cover X-rays and administrative functions. For a diploma program, hands-on onsite practice is usually limited to a single semester, but it will provide the student with the actual experience of a dental office work environment.
Career Path Opportunities for Dental Assistants
There are many opportunities for a dental assistant to broaden his or her career options. While becoming certified as a general dental assistant should be the first step, acquiring your Expanded Function Dental Assistant certificate will allow you to increase your duties and responsibilities. Since this certificate includes courses in administration, you can become the manager of a dental office. If you have completed the Associate’s degree program for dental assistants, you can opt to become a dental hygienist. The minimum educational requirement for a dental hygienist is a two-year degree, and most have a four-year degree. You will add cleaning teeth to your job responsibilities. Dental hygienists earn considerably more than dental assistants.
Where do Dental Assistants Work?
The majority of dental assistants work for single and group dental practices. Those with the necessary experience can work for specialists, such as orthodontists, periodontists, dental surgeon or pediatric dentists. Dental assistants also work with the public sector where the focus is on preventing dental problems. Dental assistants can work in hospitals and help treat patients that are bedridden. With experience and a minimum two-year degree, dental assistants can work at community colleges or vocational schools and train dental assistant students.
Dental Assistant Job Interview
Great! You’ve got the interview as a dental assistant. After seeing your resume, there is obviously some interest, but that’s just the beginning. The purpose of the face-to-face interview is to convince the interviewer (in a smaller office, the dentist or office manager) that you are the perfect fit for their office. Remember, they will be interviewing other candidates, so you need to stand out and shine. Following are a few tips on how to land your dream job.
1. Dentistry is all about team work. Besides listing your individual accomplishments, you need to convince the interviewer that you work well within a team structure. If you have prior dental assistant experience, emphasize your role in the dental team and how you helped others function better and more efficiently. If you still in a dental assistant program, explain how you and other students work together on various projects.
If you are straight out of school and this is your first job, your interviewer will undoubtedly be aware of that after reading your resume. After all, they called you in for the interview! You can still show how well you performed in a group setting, even if it wasn’t in a dental office. Did you lead or were part of a study group in school? Did you work with others on a project? Be sure to list anything you feel is relevant in how you communicated well within a group.
2. A dental assistant must be a “people person.” You will spend much time talking with patients about their needs, fears and dental history. Your personality is a critical factor, and it should shine the moment you enter the office for the interview. Be on time and show confidence. Smile and make a few friendly remarks to the person at the front desk. A simple, “I’m definitely glad I’m on time. Traffic was a horror,” will show you are an amiable person, even if the receptionist is too busy to chat. If possible, make some pleasant small talk with whoever else is in the waiting/reception area. There’s every chance the interviewer/dentist will check with the front desk person for an impression. You want to be sure to make the right one.
3. If you lack work experience, have letters of recommendations from teachers, school counsellors, coaches that affirm your reliability, punctuality and pro-active personality.
4. If you are currently in a dental assistant program, elaborate what you have learned in your classes and how you can transfer that knowledge to the workplace.
5. As a dental assistant, you will be working with many frightened, nervous children. Relate any relevant babysitting experience and emphasize how much you enjoy children. The interviewer will be looking for someone who is at ease with toddlers and children. It wouldn’t hurt to have a letter or two of recommendations from satisfied parents.
Be prepared to answer questions and do practice answers ahead of time. Some questions you might face:
1. Describe what you do when sterilizing instruments.
2. Describe some difficult chair-side situations you’ve faced, and how you handled them.
3. Do you have laboratory experience in making temporary crowns or casts for teeth?
4. What is your experience in administrative duties? Do you have computer experience?
5. What do you dislike most about being a dental assistant (this is tricky, because you’re supposed to love being a dental assistant? This question is meant to put on some pressure, so think hard about an answer.)
6. What problems have you had in the past working with others?
7. How do you keep yourself and the office organized?
8. What kind of patient would give you a problem. (Again, tricky. Prepare carefully.)
9. How do you handle complaints from patients?
10. What certifications do you have?
11. What will you bring to the job (personality and enthusiasm may be preferred over skills that you can learn on-the-job.)
12. Tell me about your last job.
13. Tell me about your educational background.
14. What are your past experiences in a dental officer (only for candidates with prior experience.)
15. Do you have plans to continue your education?
Some dental offices may take you out for lunch. This isn’t just a free meal. You are being evaluated on how you converse with others and behave under stress. This would be an excellent time to ask a few questions so that someone else will be do most of the talking. A dental assistant career is challenging and satisfying. Good luck on the reward road ahead.


Dental Assisting Program Levels