Becoming A Dental Assistant: A New Career

Health care and dental care are generating a lot of new jobs in this economy. People are attracted to these jobs for several reasons. Among them are job security, good pay and the possibility of advancement in salary if not in position. A career as a dental assistant may be just the thing that you are looking for to start your adult life or to change careers for something more potentially prosperous.

What is a Dental Assistant?

When you enter a dentist’s office, you may encounter as many as four different kinds of staff members working there. The dentist may work alone or with others. He or she is the top professional in the office and one or more of them are usually in charge. Dental hygienists assist dentists directly during procedures and are often tasked with performing a number of preliminary procedures on their own. There are also office staff who do paperwork, receive clients and do other work. These staff members are not permitted to assist with dental procedures.

A dental assistant occupies a special position in any dentist’s office. This person can work in the front office helping with paperwork but he or she can also work back in the dental suites helping the dentist or the hygienist with procedures. Dental assistants do not actually perform any procedures themselves but they may be tasked with bringing the right dental tools, preparing them properly and inputting information learned during procedures into computers.

The Dental Assistant Job Description

The specific job description for dental assistants clarifies the exact work which they are licensed to do. While any work in the office or in reception is permissible, there are some very clear limits for dental assistants with regard to working with patients. The work of dental assistants is normally supervised by hygienists or dentists.  However, there are tasks which these assistants can perform by themselves.

  • Preparing patients for treatment
  • Sterilizing instruments for the dentist or hygienist
  • Passing these instrument sot the dentist during procedures
  • Holding suction devices during procedures
  • Manufacturing impressions of patients’ crowns
  • Exposing radio-graphs of patients’ mouths

The basic purpose of a dental assistant is to act as an extra set of hands for a hygienist or dentist. When not directly involved with patients and dentists in dental procedures, a dental assistant may find him or herself tasked with any of a variety of jobs within the office.

Dental Assistant Training Requirements

There are a variety of restrictions placed on dental assistants and aspiring assistants in different states. In some areas, a dental assistant can work without having any post-secondary degree and very little training. In other states, dental assistants are required to have at least certificate-level education before they can work officially at a dentist’s side in this capacity.

Often, if an interested party wants to work as a dental assistant but does not meet state certifications, he or she can get a job working in a dentist’s office in some other capacity. During this initial employment, further education can be sought to move the person into the position of dental assistant eventually.

Dental Assistant Schools

In the United States, there are about 200 schools dedicated to training dental assistants. Some states do not require their assistants to attend any sort of school. Others will only accept training or education at specific schools. Typically, these schools offer training courses that take a few months or as long as half a year of virtually full-time schooling.

Here Are a Few Accredited Dental Assistant Schools with Campuses Around The US

  • Everest College
  • Pima Medical Institute
  • Carrington College
  • Heald College
  • Pioneer Pacific College
  • Blue Cliff College
  • Charter College
  • Anthem College

There are online alternatives to this training but none that can actually train you entirely over the Internet. There is always a significant hands-on aspect of this education because of the clinical interactions with patients.

List of Schools Offering Dental Assisting Training Program Online

  • Kaplan University
  • Penn Foster Schools
  • Keiser University
  • Ultimate Medical Academy Online
  • Ashworth College

Dental Assistant Programs and Courses

There will not be a lot of education derived from books in dental assistant courses but basic levels of learning in science and math will be required, as will an adequate reading level. That is why it is advantageous for people to acquire high school diplomas or GEDs before seeking a dental assistance program.

Typical courses will involve learning how to handle radiographies and how to interact with professionals during typical procedures. Since things do not always go as planned, assistants-in-training must also learn how to deal with emergencies in a dentist’s office. Anatomy is also important in order to understand dental vocabulary.

Dental Assistant Certification

With certification from one of these schools, you can get a job in any state. If you go to a school and then seek a job in a state where schooling is not required, you should expect to be able to get better pay than the average assistant in that state. The 2010 median pay for dental assistants around the country was above $16 per hour. Employment is expected to grow rapidly in the next few years.