In the field of dentistry, dental assistants play a crucial role in ensuring that dental practices run smoothly, and patients receive the best possible care. Serving as a vital link between dentists, dental hygienists, and patients, dental assistants have a diverse range of responsibilities that make them indispensable members of a dental team.
As the demand for dental services continues to grow, the need for skilled dental assistants is on the rise, making it an excellent career choice for those interested in the health care field. In this blog post, we will explore the steps you need to take to become a dental assistant, from understanding their role and responsibilities to completing the required education and certification, and ultimately finding a rewarding job in this rapidly growing field.
Patient care: Dental assistants help put patients at ease and prepare them for treatments, procedures, or examinations. They are also responsible for taking and developing dental X-rays, applying sealants and fluoride treatments, and providing oral care and hygiene instructions to patients. Dental assistants must have interpersonal skills and help patients feel comfortable.
Office management: In addition to clinical duties, dental assistants often handle various administrative tasks, including scheduling appointments, maintaining patient records, and managing billing and payment processes. This helps ensure the smooth functioning of the dental office.
Dental procedure assistance: During dental treatments, a dental assistant works alongside the dentist or dental hygienist to provide the necessary support. They pass instruments, prepare materials, and serve as an extra pair of hands to increase efficiency and ensure the dentist can focus on the patient. All of this must be done with strict adherence to infection prevention protocols using sterilization, sanitation, and disinfecting procedures.
Dental assistants can find employment in various settings, such as private dental practices, dental schools, public health clinics, and even dental insurance companies. It's important to note that dental assistants, dental hygienists, and dentists have distinct roles and responsibilities within a dental practice. While dental assistants provide support to both dentists and dental hygienists, dental hygienists focus on preventive care and cleaning procedures. Dentists diagnose and treat dental issues.
Additional Duties that May Be Included in the Dental Assistant Role
Dental assistants typically work in clinical or office settings, where they often stand for long periods. The work can involve interactions with patients, so the ability to handle stress and remain calm and composed is essential. They must also wear personal protective equipment, including face masks and gloves, to minimize the risk of exposure to infectious diseases. Good communication skills and attention to detail are required to ensure accurate dental records and charts. Working hours often include evenings and weekends. Many dental offices are open on Saturdays, and some offer extended hours during the week. Dental assistants typically work full-time, which is defined as 35 hours or more per week.
Dental Assistant Education and Certification
Becoming a dental assistant starts with a solid educational foundation. Here's how you can prepare:
High School Preparation
For those looking to become a dental assistant, high school preparation is key. Maintaining passing grades and finding hands-on learning opportunities can help you later succeed after applying to dental assistant programs.
After completing high school, the next step is to enroll in a dental assisting program. There are two main types of programs:
Certificate or diploma programs: These are typically offered by community colleges or technical schools and can be completed in 9-12 months.
Associate degree programs: An associate degree in dental assisting, which usually takes two years to complete, provides a more in-depth education and may offer better job prospects and higher starting salaries.
Regardless of the type of program, it is essential to choose an accredited dental assisting program recognized by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Accredited programs combine classroom instruction with hands-on training, ensuring that students gain the necessary knowledge and practical experience to excel in their field. When applying to programs, it's best to consider the cost (including scholarships), accreditation and job outcomes for the program's graduates.
The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification, which is recognized nationwide and often required by employers. To be eligible for the CDA examination, candidates must have graduated from a CODA-accredited dental assisting program and possess current cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. The CDA exam has three components: General Chairside Assisting (GC), Infection Control (ICE), and Radiation Health and Safety (RHS). Obtaining CDA certification demonstrates a dental assistant's commitment to competency and professionalism.
State-specific Licensing Requirements
Licensing requirements for dental assistants vary from state to state, and it is essential to be familiar with the regulations in the state where you plan to work. Some states may require additional examinations, certifications, or permits for dental assistants. Conduct thorough research and ensure that you obtain all necessary licenses before starting your job search.
Dental assistants can further their skills and job prospects by obtaining additional certifications, such as:
Expanded Functions Dental Assistant (EFDA): This certification allows dental assistants to perform advanced procedures, such as temporary crown fabrication and dental restorations, under the supervision of a licensed dentist.
Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA): COA-certified dental assistants can assist with orthodontic procedures, such as placing and removing braces and appliances.
Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA): This certification enables dental assistants to perform preventive dental care procedures, including coronal polishing and fluoride treatments.
Finding a Job as a Dental Assistant
Job Search Strategies
Landing your first job as a dental assistant can be challenging, but these strategies can increase your chances of success:
To make a strong first impression, craft a resume and cover letter that highlight your skills, education, certifications, and any relevant experience, such as volunteering or internships. Customize your application materials for each job you apply for, ensuring that they align with the job's specific requirements and emphasize your unique qualifications.
Advancing Your Career as a Dental Assistant
As a dental assistant, there are several ways to grow and advance in your career:
An entry-level dental assistant will typically advance with experience. Working in different dental specialties can expose you to varied procedures and patient populations, expanding your skills and knowledge. You can also pursue additional certifications to expand the scope of your practice and increase your value as a dental professional.
Joining professional organizations and attending conferences and workshops can help you stay informed about the latest trends and advancements in dentistry, as well as provide networking opportunities. This type of professional development provides a pathway for reaching professional goals.
Exploring Further Education
Dental assistants may choose to further their education by enrolling in dental hygiene programs or even pursuing a degree in dentistry, enabling them to take on more advanced roles within the dental profession.
Expected Wages as a Dental Assistant
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assistants earn a median salary of $38,660 per year. Salaries may vary depending on education, experience, certifications, and geographic location. The job outlook is faster than average, as demand for qualified professionals in this position is growing in demand.
In conclusion, a career as a dental assistant offers many opportunities for growth, learning, and personal fulfillment. By understanding the role of a dental assistant, completing the required education, obtaining certification and licensure, and embarking on a strategic job search, you will be well on your way to becoming a valuable member of a dental care team. With dedication and hard work, this can be a very rewarding career.