If you’re an organized, caring individual with an interest in the medical field, you might be wondering how to become a dental assistant. This growing field promises numerous opportunities for anyone willing to put in the work and learn the skills.
Should I Become a Dental Assistant?
If you’re just starting your career search, you’re probably wondering what the job’s like, what the day-to-day duties are, and if you’re even a good fit.
To answer the first two jobs, a dental assistant typically performs the following duties:
- Preparing the work area for treatments and procedures.
- Preparing the patient for treatments and procedures (including ensuring their comfort).
- Sterilizing dental instruments.
- Handing instruments to dentists during procedures.
- Drying patients’ mouths using suction hoses and other equipment.
- Keeping records, scheduling appointments, and other administrative duties.
Some dental assistants are a bit more specialized, responsible for taking x-rays of the teeth or performing lab tasks. These assistants, however, always perform these tasks under the direction of the dentist.
You might want to become a dental assistant if you’re compassionate, resilient, and helpful. Compassion is important in every medical and medical-adjacent field, but especially in dental assisting. Since dental visits are such a common cause of anxiety, you need to be able to remain calm and reassure any patient that’s nervous about their appointment. You’ll also want strong communication, organizational, and dexterity skills to ensure the best performance possible.
1. Choose & Apply to a Dental Assistant Program
If you’ve already decided to pursue a dental assistantship, then the first step you’ll need to take is completing a dental assistant program. Though not every state requires you to pursue education after high school, most employers will be looking for the best possible qualifications when hiring.
So a dental assistant program is probably your best bet. With so many programs to choose from, however, you may be wondering how you decide. What separates the good programs from the bad? What makes each good program unique? Most importantly, what makes a program right for you?
To answer this first program, you’ll need to look at a few crucial factors.
- Accreditation. You’ll want to make sure the program’s school is established and recognized. An accredited school’s curriculum has met regional agencies’ requirements. To become a dental assistant, you’ll also want to make sure the program’s accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). If a school’s not properly accredited, then you can’t trust that employers will accept their degrees and certifications.
- Course Offerings. Check the curriculum for their dental assistant program and make sure its courses cover everything you’ll need to know on the job. This should include both classroom and lab work on the subjects of teeth, gums, and dental instruments. Other classes may include CPR, first aid, and other skills required for the job.
- State Board Preparation. To become a dental assistant, you’ll need to earn a license and/or certification from your state. We’ll discuss this in more detail later, but for now keep this in mind: a good program should have a record of preparing students for the state board exam and the National Entry Level Dental Assistant test. The Dental Assistant National Board (DANB) administers the latter test, and you’ll need to take it if you want to work in a more specialized field. To find out if your school meets this requirement, you’ll have to find reviews from former students. If you know someone who graduated from this program, ask them for their opinion.
2. Complete a Dental Assistant Program
After choosing your program and applying, you’ll begin your coursework. You’ll want to make sure you attend all your classes so you can learn all the skills you’ll need on the job. In addition to learning the essential tasks we’ve already discussed, some dental programs might include extra courses to help you learn more specialized skills.
Even if you choose a predominantly online course, programs will generally expect you to complete a decent amount of hands-on work. After all, there are some things you can’t learn without hands-on experience.
3. Earn Your License
Once you complete your program, you’ll need to earn your license. Though most states don’t require a license for entry-level positions, having a license will show that you’re committed to the work and possess the skill necessary to work. Moreover, if you want to specialize or perform any expanded duties (such as taking x-rays), you’ll need a license and/or certification from DANB.
To earn a certification from DANB, you’ll need to take three different exams: the General Chairside Assisting (GC) exam, the Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam, and the Infection Control (ICE) exam. In total, you’ll need to get a score of 400 (out of a possible 900) to become certified.
4. Find the Right Dental Assistantship!
There’s no shortage of dental assistant jobs available, and you should have more than a few decent options. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can expect annual wages somewhere in the ballpark of $41,180. On the low end, you’re looking at $28,940 and you can expect $58,390 on the higher end. You’ll most likely find work in a dentist’s office, so look around at different local dental practices to see if someone is hiring.
A dental assisting career is a great option for those who want to help others, learn more about dentistry, and have a good work ethic. If you’re considering a degree in dental assisting, then check out Chattanooga College’s dental assisting program here!