How to Become a Dental Assistant in 5 Steps

Dental assistants work with dentists to provide services and information to dental patients. Continue reading to learn more about what a dental assistant does and the steps needed to become one. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Dental Assistant?

A dental assistant is a support staffer who helps dentists with a variety of patient care and treatment tasks. Their duties include explaining procedures to patients, instructing patients in oral care, sterilizing instruments, preparing instrument trays, providing chair side assistance during teeth cleaning and tooth extraction procedures, ordering dental supplies, and maintaining treatment records and patient histories. In states with more permissive regulations dental assistants may perform more advanced duties, such as applying temporary dental crowns, making tooth impressions or processing x-rays.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

In some cases a high school diploma or GED is sufficient to earn a dental assistant position, but if you want to enroll in a college program you are required to have a diploma. High school chemistry, biology, office administration and health sciences courses can provide relevant background knowledge that might help you perform your duties.

Step 2: Earn a Dental Assistant Certificate

According to O*Net Online, approximately 72% of dental assistants have some college education ( Another seven percent have an associate's degree. Certificate programs emphasize dental sciences and clinical practices, but may also include courses in biomedical sciences and liberal arts. Coursework might include oral anatomy and physiology, dental materials, dental radiography and assisting methods.

Step 3: Obtain Employment

Figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that approximately 295,300 people were employed as dental assistants in 2008 ( Employment had declined slightly to 294,030 in 2010 but is projected to reach 400,900 by 2018. About 93% of assistants worked in dentist offices, but you might also find work in physicians' offices, government agencies and colleges and universities. As of May 2010 the median salary you could earn was $33,470.

Step 4: Obtain Certification

Some states have professional standards for dental assistants. In 37 states you can meet them by passing three exams that lead to a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential. They are administered by the Dental Assisting National Board and are designed to test your knowledge of radiation health and safety, general chairside practices and infection control In addition, passing the radiation and health safety exam in 30 states permits you to perform radiological procedures. To be eligible for the CDA you need either two years of full-time or four years of part-time dental assistant experience and CPR certification.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

You have several options for advancement in the dental field, but most require further education. By earning an associate's degree in office management you could become a dental office manager or transition from providing care to becoming a dental products sales rep. Alternatively, you could apply your certificate credits towards an associate's degree or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene and become a dental hygienist.

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