Innovators Guide



Dental Assistant Training

Many assistants learn their skills on the job, although an increasing number are trained in dental-assisting programs offered by community and junior colleges, trade schools, technical institutes, or the Armed Forces. Most programs take 1 year to complete. For assistants to perform more advanced functions, or to have the ability to complete radiological procedures, many States require assistants to obtain a license or certification.

Education and training. In most States, there are no formal education or training requirements to become an entry-level dental assistant. High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, health, and office practices. For those wishing to pursue further education, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) approved 281 dental-assisting training programs in 2009. Programs include classroom, laboratory, and preclinical instruction in dental-assisting skills and related theory. Most programs take close to 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Two-year programs offered in community and junior colleges lead to an associate degree. All programs require a high school diploma or its equivalent, and some require science or computer-related courses for admission. A number of private vocational schools offer 4- to 6-month courses in dental assisting, but the Commission on Dental Accreditation does not accredit these programs.

A large number of dental assistants learn through on-the-job training. In these situations, the employing dentist or other dental assistants in the dental office teach the new assistant dental terminology, the names of the instruments, how to perform daily duties, how to interact with patients, and other things necessary to help keep the dental office running smoothly. While some things can be picked up easily, it may be a few months before new dental assistants are completely knowledgeable about their duties and comfortable doing all their tasks without assistance.

A period of on-the-job training is often required even for those who have completed a dental-assisting program or have some previous experience. Different dentists may have their own styles of doing things that need to be learned before an assistant can be comfortable working with them. Office-specific information, such as where files and instruments are kept, will need to be learned at each new job. Also, as dental technology changes, dental assistants need to stay familiar with the instruments and procedures that they will be using or helping dentists to use. On-the-job training may be sufficient to keep assistants up-to-date on these matters.

Licensure and certification. Most States regulate the duties that dental assistants are allowed to perform. Some States require licensure or registration to perform expanded functions or to perform radiological procedures within a dentist�s office. Licensure may include attending an accredited dental assisting program and passing a written or practical examination. Many States also require continuing education to maintain licensure or registration. However, a few States allow dental assistants to perform any function delegated to them by the dentist. Since requirements vary widely by State, it is recommended to contact the appropriate State board directly for specific requirements.

The Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential, administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), is recognized or required in more than 37 States toward meeting various requirements. Candidates may qualify to take the DANB certification examination by graduating from a CODA-accredited dental assisting education program or by having 2 years of full-time, or 4 years of part-time, experience as a dental assistant. In addition, applicants must have current certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. For annual recertification, individuals must earn continuing education credits. Other organizations offer registration, most often at the State level.

Individual States have also adopted different standards for dental assistants who perform certain advanced duties. In some States, dental assistants who perform radiological procedures must complete additional training distinct from that required to perform other expanded functions. Completion of the Radiation Health and Safety examination or the Certified Dental Assistant examination offered by Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) meets the standards in 30 States and the District of Columbia. Some States require completion of a State-approved course in radiology as well. Twelve States have no formal requirements to perform radiological procedures.

Other qualifications. Dental assistants must be a second pair of hands for a dentist; therefore, dentists look for people who are reliable, work well with others, and have good manual dexterity.

Certification and advancement. Without further education, advancement opportunities are limited. Some dental assistants become office managers, dental-assisting instructors, dental product sales representatives, or insurance claims processors for dental insurance companies. Others go back to school to become dental hygienists. For many, this entry-level occupation provides basic training and experience and serves as a steppingstone to more highly skilled and higher paying jobs. Assistants wishing to take on expanded functions or perform radiological procedures may choose to complete coursework in those functions allowed under State regulation or, if required, obtain a State-issued license.

Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition

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Dental Assistant Employment
Dental Assistant Training
Dental Assistant Job Outlook
Dental Assistant Income

 

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