There is a lot of appeal in becoming a dental assistant. Not only will you acquire tons of knowledge in a healthcare-related field, but you also get to start your career relatively faster than most other healthcare support jobs.
Thanks to these reasons, dental assisting is currently one of the leading jobs in its sector. So, how exactly can you become a dental assistant? And what options exist for people looking to take a relatively unconventional path?
We provide the answers to all of these questions and more in the passages below.
Dental Assistant Job Description
Before you begin your journey toward becoming a dental assistant, it is essential to understand what the job entails in the first place. Dental assistants work with dentists and other leading dental operators to ensure their work runs more smoothly and effectively.
They do this by performing support roles, including but not limited to making sure patients are sitting comfortably in their chairs, passing on instruments to the dentist immediately when they are needed, sterilizing dental instruments, keeping records, and scheduling patient appointments.
Dental assistants work almost exclusively in a dentist’s office and may take on tasks with a more extensive scope depending on their particular office and the laws of the states in which they practice.
Becoming a Dental Assistant
There are two main paths to becoming a dental assistant - getting formal education through an accredited program or getting on-the-job training.
From there, there are still a few remaining steps to ensure you’re well-established in your profession. We take a step-by-step look at all of these and more below.
Step 1: Choosing the best Educational Path
Generally, most dental assistants complete a formal education path by completing a college program. These programs last one to two years, depending on the degree.
Certificate programs last about 11 months, while associate degree programs take up to two years. In both, students are taught about dental materials, radiography, dental pharmacology, office administration, and oral anatomy.
Again, not all dental assistants go through an accredited dental assisting program to practice, but those who do tend to have an advantage over those who don’t.
Step 2: Carry Out an Externship
Work experience is significant for a dental assistant. It is needed in most cases for certification and even for employment. By completing an externship, a dental assistant in training gains much-needed experience to stand out from the competition.
Thankfully, a lot of programs offer externships as part of their coursework. Some programs make it voluntary, but a student in training would do well to take it.
During this time, they acquire real-world dental assisting skills, including chairside assisting, oral hygiene, dental pharmacology, dental pathology, and oral anatomy.
Step 3: Decide on a Focus Area
A dental assistant can specialize in several areas apart from general dentistry. Some options available in this regard include prosthodontics, periodontics, endodontics, pediatric dentistry, maxillofacial surgery, and dentofacial orthodontics.
Step 4: State Certification & Licensing
Most states require certification and licensing before a dental assistant can practice. Usually, the requirements to get licensed and certified differ from state to state. To learn more about a particular state, don’t hesitate to contact that state’s dental board or visit the Dental Assistant National Board’s website.
For most states, getting licensed requires passing the DANB’s CDA (Certified Dental Assistant) examination administered by Pearson VUE test center. The exam comprises 320 questions and tests students in general chairside assisting, infection control, and radiation health and safety.
To be certified, candidates must earn a score of 400 out of 900 available points. Those who fail the exam have two options: to retake the exam as soon as possible or enroll in more preparatory courses before retaking the exam.
Step 5: Additional Certification
State certification is excellent, but several other certification types are available to dental assistants that can offer countless additional benefits. For instance, in addition to the CDA credential, students may also take the National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA) test administered by the DANB.
For specialized fields, students may consider the Orthodontic Dental Assistant certification, Preventive Functions Dental Assistant certification, or Restorative Functions Dental Assistant certification.
Step 6: Secure an Entry Level Job
Once you finish your education, certification, and licensing, it’s time to land a job. Following the suggested path above should put you in an excellent place to get significant job opportunities.
Seeing as dental assisting is one of the fastest growing fields in the country, with a score above the national average according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, getting a job in general dentistry or specialized fields should be easy once you fulfill the requirements.
Step 7: Get an Advanced Degree
Dental assistants can go back to school to advance their careers. Of course, this isn’t a compulsory step, but there is no denying it is becoming a more popular route for professionals in the field.
It is also possible for those with an associate degree already to transfer their credits to a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. Doing so opens the door to incredible career growth and more significant earning potential.
Dental assisting remains one of the fastest growing occupations in the country, with more demands for professionals in the field every day. Thankfully, becoming a dental assistant is relatively straightforward, as outlined above.
Becoming a dental assistant is also a rewarding experience as candidates need to establish a solid knowledge base in a veritable healthcare field. Still, they also earn an impressive salary and can choose to further their career effortlessly if they choose.
All of these are what make the dental assisting field such an impressive and attractive one.