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Schools with Dental Assisting Training Programs

A dental assistant is a valuable asset to any dental practice or facility. Dental assistants help ensure the smooth delivery of quality dental health care to patients and are an indispensable part of any dental operation. That is just one reason why the job prospects for qualified dental assistant personnel are very bright.

Job Description and Responsibilities of a Dental Assistant

The responsibilities of a dental assistant in any dental office, hospital, or other dental facility can be extremely varied and specialized. Many of these responsibilities require technical expertise while others require effective inter personal and communication skills. Basically, there are three main tasks:

1.      Help the dentist in administering the best dental care.

2.      Help patients and make them feel comfortable.

3.      Help ensure that the dental practice or facility runs smoothly.

There are many ways a dental assistant helps achieve the goals. Very often, the job is a combination of office and administration work, lab work, and patient care. Just some of the responsibilities include:

  • Welcoming patients and retrieving their dental records.

  • Asking a patient about his or her medical history.

  • Making patients feel as comfortable as possible in the dental chair and preparing them for dental treatment.

  • Taking x-rays and presenting them to the dentist.

  • Removing sutures, applying topical medicines in a patient's mouth, even removing excess filling.

  • Working next to the dentist, handing the dentist instruments and helping treat patients.

  • Making casts of teeth from dental impressions.

  • Sterilizing dental equipment and instruments, stocking and replenishing dental supplies.

  • Giving patients instructions on medicine and oral care after treatment.

  • Answering phone calls and patient queries.

  • Making dental appointments.

  • Billing and payment record keeping.

Where a Dental Assistant Program Graduate Can Work

A dental assistant can work in a few different types of work environments. Here are some of them:

  • Individual dental practice with only one dentist.

  • Group dental practices with two or more dental partners.

  • Highly specialized dental practices such as orthodontics, periodontics, pediatric dentistry, etc.

  • Hospital dental facilities treating patients admitted to hospital.

  • Public health dentistry such as in public schools or in underserved areas of the community.

  • Sales with a company that sells dental equipment to consumers, dentists, or other businesses.

  • In an education facility teaching others how to become a qualified dental assistant.

Dental Assistant Program Training and Education

Training to become a dental assistant can be completed in approximately 9 - 11 months. Students generally enroll in a community college, a vocational school, trade school, university, or dental school, graduating with a certificate or a diploma from that school upon completion of all courses. Students attending 2-year programs at community colleges and junior colleges graduate with an associate degree. High school students wanting to pursue a career as a dental assistant should try to take as many related courses as possible such as biology, health, chemistry, etc. There also are numerous accelerated programs and online courses.

The American Dental Association formally approves and recognizes approximately 260 dental assisting programs offered by various types of schools. These programs encompass classroom learning, lab work, and other related course work. Sometimes, students are required to obtain practical experience by working in a dental office in order to graduate. Almost all these schools require a high school degree in order to gain admission.

Almost every state either issues dental assistant licenses or requires some form of registration in an effort to regulate the industry. Often, registration or obtaining a license requires successful completion of an exam or test, either written or practical. Some states require students to attend a certain number of hours of training at an approved school in order to qualify for the dental assistant license or registration. Other states have less stringent requirements. It is extremely important properly research your state's requirement.

Dental assistants become certified by successfully passing an exam. The majority choose to become nationally certified by taking the Dental Assisting National Board's Certified Dental Assistant exam. Many individual states use different levels of qualifications and licensing. For example, one can successfully pass the Radiation Health and Safety exam offered by the Dental Assisting National Board and have those qualifications recognized in more than half of the states in the U.S. Similarly, there are other distinguishing qualifications. The certification awarded by the Dental Assisting National Board is recognized or mandated in more than 31 states. In order to take the Dental Assistant National Board's exam, students must have graduated from an approved and accredited program or by having at least 2 years of practical training. Applications must also be CPR certified.

Dental Assistant School Accreditation

It is extremely important to make sure that the program you are considering is properly accredited. The accrediting body responsible for dental assistant program accreditation is the Commission on Dental Accreditation, which is part of the American Dental Association. There are approximately 260 accredited schools.

Dental Assistant Job Numbers

In 2004 there were approximately 267,000 people working as dental assistants in the U.S. The majority of these jobs were in dental offices and practices. A much smaller number worked in government (both federal, state, county, and city) offices or doctor's offices. Two out of every five dental assistants worked on a part-time basis. Some worked for more then one employer.

Dental Assistant Earnings and Wages

In 2004, the median hourly wage earned by dental assistants was $13.62. The lowest 10% earned less than $9.11 while the highest 10% earned more than $19.77 per hour. Earnings depend on location, responsibilities, and other variable factors. Most dental assistants also receive dental coverage and other benefits.

Dental Assisting Employment Prospects

Presently, the job prospects and future opportunities for qualified dental assistants are very bright. Employment is projected to stay strong for all skilled occupations through the year 2014 and dental assisting is expected to be one of the fastest growing occupations between the 2004 - 2014 projection period.

Because of population growth and the longer retention of teeth by the aged, dental assistants should be in high demand for a long time. They are becoming more skilled and highly trained all the time, thereby leading many dentists to delegate ever increasing tasks to them.

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