Well-trained dental assistants assist with dental procedures, work on administrative tasks, and provide patients with dental care tips for brushing and flossing. In this article we discuss the duties of a dental assistant, how to become one, the expected salary, and frequently asked questions about the profession.
What is a Dental Assistant (CDA DANB)?
A dental assistant prepares patients for dental procedures or dental appointments. They are often the first person a patient encounters during an appointment for dental care or cleaning.
A dental assistant’s responsibilities typically include:
- Schedule appointments
- Prepare exam rooms
- Prepare patients for treatment
- Assist the dentist during procedures
- Making dental impressions
- Provide oral hygiene supplies and informational materials
- Sterilize equipment
- Develop x-rays
- Teaching patients to flow and brush
If a patient is undergoing surgery, the dental assistant gives the surgeon the material and helps patients with the corresponding mouthwash. In general, dental assistants make sure operations run smoothly while the dentist treats patients.
How to become a Dental Assistant (CDA DANB)?
You can take the following steps to become a dental assistant:
1. Complete a dental assistant program
Dental assistant programs are often available through a local vocational school or community college. Look for one accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). A high school diploma or GED is required. The dental assistant program will take one to two years to complete, depending on whether you earn a certificate or an associate’s degree. Courses will include classroom and laboratory work to learn about teeth, gums, dental instruments, CPR, and other related instruction.
Consider signing up for an externship before you enter the job market. This can be integrated into your dental assistant program or completed on your own to learn more about specialties like orthodontics or restorative care. The training required to be a dental assistant varies by state, so research the requirements in your area.
2. Obtain a state certification or license and consider additional certifications
Once you finish your education, youn proceed to obtain a state license to become a dental assistant. Check with your state dental board or the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) for the requirements you need to obtain your certification.
In some states, you’ll need to take a DANB-administered Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam, which contains 320 questions on three topics: general office attendance, radiation health, and infection control.
3. Dental Assistant Certification CDA DANB
If you want to work within a dental specialty, you may consider seeking additional certification from the DANB. Some certifications available are:
- National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA): Examinations focus on anatomy, morphology and physiology, infection control, and radiation health.
- Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA): Exams focus on orthodontic assistance and infection control.
- Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA): Exams focus on coronal polishing, sealants, and topical fluoride
- Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA): Exams focus on impressions, sealants, provisionals, and restorative functions.
- Registered Dental Assistant (RDA): Exams focus on state-specific knowledge and skills.
4. Get an entry-level position
Apply for entry-level positions and highlight your educational, internship, and volunteer experiences. Prepare a resume that shows your familiarity with the professional environment, terminology, tools, patient relationships, and workflows.
5. Earn an advanced degree to stand out from other applicants
Once you’ve gained a couple of years of experience as a dental assistant, consider getting a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene to improve your chances of earning a higher salary in your next position or getting a promotion at your current job. You have the opportunity to transfer credits and put them toward a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene or another related discipline of your choice.
What is the average salary of a dental assistant?
The national median salary for dental assistants is $61,819 per year.
but it can vary depending on the size of the practice, your experience and the geographical location where you work.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 7% increase in the employment of dental assistants through 2029. Growth factors include an aging population, increased awareness of preventive dental care, and ongoing research linking oral health to general health.
What kind of training do I need to be a dental assistant?
You need a high school diploma or GED and to successfully complete a dental assistant program. To become a dental assistant you also need to volunteer or do an externship. Externships may be part of the dental assistant program you enroll in, so be sure to confirm if the program has one before you enroll.
What skills do I need to have to become a dental assistant?
In addition to technical training, dental assistants need soft skills to interact with other staff and patients. Some of those skills are:
- Interpersonal skills: Interpersonal skills are the skills you use to interact with the people around you, including your peers and employers. These skills are important in all jobs, but especially those where you work closely with other people,
- Communication Skills: Communication is a key skill for employees as it ensures effective teamwork, creates a more positive environment, and helps solve problems. In addition, dental assistants must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA’s) regarding the privacy of patient information. You must maintain the confidentiality of all information and respect security protocols.
- Time Management Ability: This soft skill will show employers your ability to be productive in the time you have. Dental assistants perform various tasks, such as assisting patients in the dental chair, assisting the dentist during procedures, and sterilizing tools and equipment. All of these tasks require the ability to manage time to multitask.
- Problem Solving Skills: Reading x-rays, treating and assisting patients during procedures can sometimes present problems such as unexpected tooth decay or a dental emergency. Dental assistants must possess strong problem-solving skills to help identify and resolve any issues that may arise.
Where do dental assistants work?
There are a wide variety of settings where dental assistants are needed, including:
Private dental offices
- Specialist consultations, such as oral surgery and orthodontics
- Public health program sites, such as clinics and schools
- Dental clinics in hospitals
- Dental clinics
If you are interested in a career related to dentistry, here are other roles to consider:
- Dental receptionist
- Dental laboratory technician
- Dental hygienist
- Oral surgery assistant
- Orthodontic assistant
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