Is a Job as a Dental Assistant Right for You?

Becoming a dentist takes the better part of a decade, and insane amounts of money and brain power. It’s a great job, but quite frankly it’s not for everyone. However, for those who would like a job in the dental field, there are other options.

One task a dental assistant can do is provide dental screenings, photo by Fort Rucker

One task a dental assistant can do is provide dental screenings, photo by Fort Rucker

There is a big difference between studying to become a dental assistant and a dental hygienist. A dental hygienist will need an AA (Associates) degree and some amount of hands-on experience to even be able to study for a Bachelor’s degree via an on line distance learning program. And that’s a topic for another blog. Today I’d like to talk about a quicker way to get into the dental field, becoming a dental assistant.

A dental assistant will require training, and knowledge, but can more likely get a job without any experience. There are several training programs available on line, and after the course work is completed the student is awarding a diploma. This is not the same as earning a four-year degree. The training programs and shorter (usually about eleven to twelve months) and more focused on the dental industry, so the diploma will be for graduating the program, and thusly it’s all the more important to make sure the program is accredited before enrolling.

In order to work as a dental assistant, a prospective employee will need to have a high school diploma (or equivalent) and a diploma from a program accredited by CODA, which is the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

The job description for a dental assistant is fairly wide-open, and combines aspects of an office assistant job with aspects of a dental worker: in addition to common administrative tasks like setting up appointments, calling patients, organizing patient records, etc, the dental assistant may also have to demonstrate to patience how to effectively care for their teeth, they may have to sterilize equipment, prepare x-rays or tooth molds. So in preparing for the job, the prospective dental assistant must learn a lot about dentistry and office management.

A common dental assistant training program will cover the following topics: Pharmacology, Radiology, Nutrition, Pathology, Updating and maintaining patient records, preventative dentistry, dental anatomy, dental terminology, disease transmission, infection control, orthodontics, first aid and CPR, patient care, dental emergency management, health care laws and regulations, and business administration or medical office management. That’s just to give you an idea of the course work.

Here are a handful of distance learning schools with established training programs for dental assisting

Penn Foster Career School

Heald College

ATI Career Training Center

Everest College

Blue Cliff College

A dental assistant can make on average about $35,000 dollars per year, working full time. A dental hygienist can make twice that amount as an annual salary, but requires much more schooling and much more experience. However, working as a dental assistant can get someone that experience, and allow themselves to work in the field while they continue their education and keep working towards a bachelors degree as a dental hygienist.

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