Dental Assistant: Training, Requirements and Qualifications

If you are thinking of a promising career to have, then why not consider becoming a dental assistant.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is expected to grow by 36 percent in the next 7 years and that in fact; the profession is one of the fastest growing in the United States. It seems like there’s only good news for this profession as even the American Dental Association say that 46% of dentists find that there is a shortage of dental assistants. From this survey alone, you can deduce that the demand for dental assistant will definitely rise in the coming years.

If you are looking for a great career for your skill set, then how about becoming a dental assistant? The first question though is: what does a dental assistant do?

As the name implies a dental assistant assist a dentist by performing clinical and clerical jobs. A dental assistant, depending on the state, may perform various clinical tasks like taking the x-ray of a patient’s teeth, administering topical anesthesia, preparing equipment, but at the same time, a dental assistant also has to perform certain clerical jobs like filing and organizing patient’s information as well as scheduling appointments, answering the phone, helping patients with payment setup as well as billing and inventory.

With this varied list of tasks, your next question is probably on what it takes to become a dental assistant. Listed below are the usual requirements in terms of education and training for dental assistants as well as other certifications and accreditations that you can have.

General Education and Training

The basic requirement for a dental assistant is a high school diploma. However, things get a little vague when it comes to the training required to become one. There is really no official, standard training that you would have to go through to become a dental assistant. In fact, almost 49% of dental assistants say that they got their training on the job. There are some dentists who will take you in on an entry-level dental assistant position and train you himself. However, more and more dentists prefer assistants who already have some background and knowledge in dentistry for this definitely makes their job easier. As such, there are already a lot of community colleges, technical institutes and other schools that offer dental assisting programs.

Now, if you want to know how long it usually takes to train or get a certificate in dental assisting, the answer is in around a year. Most of these programs take about 9 months to a year to complete and would definitely give you a boost in getting a higher entry-level salary as well as more options on where to work.

Of course, you have a lot of options as to how you would like to further your education so as to advance your career. If you are already a dental assistant and wish to improve your background, then you can take courses in biology, health, chemistry as well as courses on administration, management and other office practices since you have to remember that a dental assistant does not just perform clinical procedures but also has clerical tasks. If you want to start your career with fully-prepared though, and with an amazing résumé

Being one of the fastest growing professions in the country, schools and other educational institutions are doing their best to provide would-be dental assistants with the training and knowledge that they would need to be competent. There are already a variety of programs that you can choose from in your local college or community college. In fact, you can even choose to take a part-time education programs or undergo distance learning and online education for those with difficult schedules or no easy access to any educational institution that offers this particular program. There are currently 281 approved dental-assisting programs by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) so you will definitely find a program that suits you, your time and your finances.

Accreditation, Certification and Licensure

Most of these dental-assisting programs offered by education institutions come with a diploma or certificate at the end of the program. However, if you want to get the advantage at work, then it would be best to get accreditation or pass a licensure exam.

What dental assistants can and cannot perform actually depends on the state. Some states have more stringent measures and require licensure or registration before you are allowed to perform any clinical task. If you want to be a licensed or registered dental assistant, you must pass a written exam as well as a practical exam from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). More than half of the states require certification from this board. If you’re thinking of being certified, then DANB offers three kinds of certifications:

  1. Certified Dental Assistant
  2. Certified Dental Practice Management Administrator
  3. Certified Orthodontic Assistant

As was said earlier, there’s really no one way to go about training to become a dental assistant since most of the skills you need, you would learn on the job. Undergoing training programs though, would be a great career boost and getting accredited will definitely make it easier for you to find a job that offers the best income potential for you.


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