High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass a state exam. Most programs take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma and are offered by community colleges. Two-year programs, also offered in community colleges, are less common and lead to an associateís degree. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), part of the American Dental Association, approved more than 285 dental-assisting training programs in 2011.
Accredited programs include classroom and laboratory work in which students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. These programs also include supervised, practical experience.
In other states, there are no formal educational requirements to become an entry-level dental assistant. Contact your state board of dentistry for specific requirements.
On-the-job training often is required regardless of what educational path a dental assistant takes. Dentists have their own ways of doing things, and their assistants may need time to become comfortable working with them.
Dental assistants who do not get formal education learn their duties through on-the-job training. The dentist or other dental assistants in the office teach the new assistant dental terminology, the names of the instruments, how to do daily tasks, how to interact with patients, and other activities necessary to help keep the dental office running smoothly.
Although some job duties are easy to learn, others may take a few months before new dental assistants are knowledgeable about and comfortable doing all their tasks without help
Some states require dental assistants to be certified; requirements vary by state. To get certification, dental assistants must pass the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To take the exam, dental assistants must have graduated from an accredited program or have graduated high school and completed the required amount of on-the-job training. Applicants must also have current certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
Some states require that dental assistants be licensed or register with DANB to complete regulated tasks, such as coronal polishing, in a dentistís office; requirements vary by state. Contact your state board of dentistry for specific requirements.
Source: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition
U.S. Dental Assistant Programs
Dental Assistant Duties
Dental Assistant Work Conditions
Dental Assistant Employment
Dental Assistant Training
Dental Assistant Job Outlook
Dental Assistant Earnings
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