A dental assistant is a popular career choice for several reasons, one of them being the growing demand for quality dental care and the fact that the field of dental assisting is flourishing. With research advancements in dentistry and an increased demand for preventive dental services, the employment of dental assistants has been projected to grow 19 percent from 2016 to 2026.
10 Steps to Becoming a Dental Assistant and Advancing Your Career Further
Are you looking at a career as a dental assistant? Here’s a 10-step guide to what prospective students need to know to become a dental assistant, available training programs, components of a successful career, and overall job outlook. Though the requirements and specific job roles vary from state to state, here is a broad outline:
- Understanding the Role of a Dental Assistant
If you are at that stage where you are merely contemplating your various career interests, it might help to understand what the role of a dental assistant entails. Dental assistants perform many tasks that require both interpersonal and technical skills. Working under the supervision of dentists to carry out procedures and ensure the office runs smoothly, dental assistants must have great levels of skill and attention to detail. They support dentists during procedures, prepare the work area, handle requested tools during procedures, perform procedural tasks and sterilize tools.
In states with more permissive regulations, dental assistants may perform more advanced duties, such as applying temporary dental crowns, making tooth impressions or processing x-rays. In clinics, dental assistants also take care of office tasks such as scheduling, billing and record keeping.
While the specific role of a dental assistant may vary from office to office, below are general job descriptions you can expect:
- Schedule appointments
- Prepare patients for treatments
- Take blood pressure and pulse
- Provide patients with instructional materials and oral hygiene supplies
- Sterilize the equipment
- Develop X-rays
- Teach patients how to properly brush and floss
- Assist the dentist during procedures
- Job Settings for a Dental Assistant
Dental assistants are in demand, especially since many dentists employ more than one assistant and they serve as nurses to dentist. There is a variety of practice settings in which dental assistants are needed.
- Private dental practices
- Specialty practices, such as oral surgery, orthodontics and dental facial orthopedics
- Schools, clinics and other public health program sites
- Hospital dental clinics
- Dental school clinics
- Understanding the Salary and Other Job Facts
Before you decide to become a dental assistant, it's a good idea to learn more about what to expect in terms of salary and job flexibility. Dental assistants typically have full-time jobs, although part-time work is also available.
- Getting a High School Diploma
One of the first steps toward actually pursuing this career path is getting the right dental assistant education to increase your chances of being hired by a dental office. Subjects like chemistry, biology, anatomy, health sciences and office administration can provide background knowledge to prepare you for the certification programs and work as a dental assistant.
Volunteer work or an internship can also enhance your interpersonal skills and will look good on your resume. Employers appreciate this type of experience.
- Understanding Your State's Requirements for Dental Assistants
Though some states do not require dental assistants to have any type of training or education beyond a high school diploma, others require job candidates to get certification from an accredited program. It is also important to keep in mind that potential employers always want to see the highest levels of qualifications.
So, how do you start? What do you need to be a dental assistant? An online search for your state would provide information about dental assisting or dental assistant registration and state-specific requirements.
- Enroll in a Certificate Program if Required by Your State
So how do you become a certified dental assistant? Enroll in programs that have been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), in your state. The certificate programs often take one to two years to complete, depending on whether a student is pursuing a certificate, diploma or associate degree, with both classroom and laboratory work to learn about teeth, gums, dental instruments and other aspects of a career in dental assisting.
Even if your state does not mandate a certification, you may still benefit from completing such a program to give you a competitive edge over other job applicants when it comes to landing your first job.
- Get State Certification or Complete Licensing Requirements
Contacting your state dental board or visiting the Dental Assistant National Board’s website Certification and Licensure Requirements can provide you with relevant information. Different exams have different requirements, however some of the basic requirements are noted below:
- You must have graduated from an accredited program
- In states that don't require you to complete a program, you must have your high school diploma or equivalent
- You must have current CPR training
Additionally, students may also choose to complete the National Entry Level Dental Assistant test, also administered by the DANB while students looking to work in specialized dental assisting can undertake further certifications.
- Get an Externship
Academic programs offer externships as a voluntary element of coursework, providing important real-world training opportunities. Dental assistants-in-training can gain experience and have a stronger resume by completing an externship to practice their skills in areas of chair-side assisting, oral anatomy, dental pathology, radiology, oral hygiene and dental pharmacology. To work in specialized areas of dentistry, such as pediatric or orthodontic care, students can take the right steps to become a dental assistant and opt for these areas during their externships.
- Apply for the Position of Dental Assistant
Some jobs require a year or more of experience, so you will probably have better luck getting an entry-level job that does not require multiple years of experience to start. Make sure you meet the requirements listed on the posting for the job you're applying to. However, if you’ve completed a certification program, you can count the supervised training and externship you received as experience for certain positions.
- Advance Your Career
After working for a number of years, dental assistants may choose to complete an advanced degree to become a dental hygienist or dentist. The experience you gain as a dental assistant will give you a first-hand view of the world of dentistry.
Those with an associate degree during their initial academic training can often transfer existing credits to a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene for increased career mobility.
There is a demand for skilled and compassionate dental assistants. At American Career College, we have a diploma program for dental assisting that is sure to help you on your way to pursuing this career path. Get all the information you need on our Registered Dental Assisting (RDA) approved dental assisting course.