The Bureau of Labor Statistics specifies dental assisting as one of the fastest-growing fields of healthcare support. The field remains appealing to nontraditional students who wish to start a career in healthcare with lots of promise and a chance to grow and acquire more knowledge along the way.
But what exactly does a dental assistant do? And what are the alternative options available to become one? We look at these and other similar questions in the sections below.
Who is a Dental Assistant?
As the name implies, a dental assistant supports a dental operator who can be a dentist or any other dental auxiliary. In their support role, dental assistants often carry out tasks such as processing X-rays, completing specific lab tasks under the guidance of a dentist, keeping records, scheduling appointments, and many others.
Dental assistants spend most of their time in a dentist’s office. As we’ll see below, dental assistants differ significantly from dental hygienists or technicians. They are also not the same as dental therapists.
Dental Assistant Education
Candidates who wish to become dental assistants may choose between a certificate/diploma program or an associate degree program. Both of these options are great ways to start a career and earn professional certification along the way.
Below are the standard requirements for admission into esteemed dental assistant training programs:
- A completed application
- Official transcripts
- CPR certification
- Completion of a background check
- Completion of a drug screening process
- Proof of health insurance
- Attendance information
- Observation hours in a professional dentist’s office (not all programs)
- A dental examination with radiographs
- Prerequisite coursework in subjects including mathematics, English, and reading.
It is worth mentioning that programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) of the American Dental Association (ADA) are regarded with high esteem. This is thanks to the rigorous peer-review process used by CODA in its accreditation process.
Offline Dental Assistant Programs
Below are some of the most reputable offline programs for dental assistants:
San Antonio College
San Antonio College’s dental assisting program prepares students in all areas of dental treatment support, medical history gathering, general health data, oral hygiene, impressions and radiographs, and office communication.
Located in San Antonio, Texas, the program is accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and also by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
The program takes five semesters for AAS completion and three for certificate completion.
State University of New York (SUNY), Buffalo
SUNY’s dental assisting certificate program can be completed in less than a year. Coursework includes topics in dental sciences and materials, preventive dentistry, preclinical and chairside seminars, computer fundamentals, and radiology.
Students in the program must complete a 300-hour clinical internship at a private dental office or a community health center.
Located in Buffalo, New York, the program is accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
The program takes thirty (30) weeks to complete.
College of Alameda
College of Alameda offers full-time classroom-based lectures and lab practice. Located in Alameda, California, the program is accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
The program takes one to two years to complete.
Indiana University’s dental assisting program is one of the best in the country. It prepares students in all relevant coursework and includes 1000 hours of lab and clinical experience.
Located in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, the program is accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and Higher Learning Commission.
The program takes thirty-two (32) weeks and at least two semesters.
Online Dental Assistant Programs
Below are some of the most notable online programs for dental assistants:
Hudson Valley Community College
The dental assisting program at Hudson Valley Community College consists of 27 credits dealing with subjects such as dental office procedures, oral hygiene education, nutrition, dental assisting, and radiology.
Located in Troy, New York, the program is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The program takes two terms to complete.
University of Houston, Downtown
The University of Houston offers students a chance to earn an online degree in dental assisting through a 100-hour program. Students are educated in dental radiology, anatomy and physiology, administration, patient information and assessment, and the foundation of clinical dentistry.
Located in Houston, Texas, the program is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
The online program for dental assisting at Rutgers University teaches graduates the necessary skills they’ll need to manage the business of owning a dental practice.
It also teaches additional aspects of being a dental assistant, including communication skills and proficiency in relevant technology. Another interesting dimension of the program is its utilization of the DENTRIX G4 instructional software to combine theoretical learning with sample practice activities.
Located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the program is accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
It takes six months to complete.
Other options include the Ozarks Technical Community College, accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), and Penn Foster Career School with a 7-month average completion time and accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).
The Dental Assisting National Board is the leading certification body for dental assistants. Certified people may earn additional perks such as a higher salary and benefits like dental care, sick leave, holidays, vacations, and pension plans.
It is possible for those who became dental assistants through an accredited training program to be certified by taking the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam. Those who passed through a non-accredited program may also become certified but must wait until they have accumulated two years of full-time work experience before qualifying for the examination.