Dental Care

Dental assistant training

Dental assistant training and the right dental assistant program


Hopefully you have already read the introduction to your career as a dental assistant. In this section, you will learn about assistant training and how to prepare for one of these exciting, well-paying jobs.

This is a profession in which many people learn through on-the-job training.  Some dentists prefer to train their own assistants so that they can demonstrate exactly what techniques they prefer.  It is more and more common, however, for dental assistants to qualify by getting a formal education through an accredited dental assistant program.  This includes classroom work, laboratory training, and clinical instruction. 

Some programs are a year or less in length.  During their training students are able to get hands-on experience on real patients through an internship in dental schools or clinics, private dental practices, or other venues.  Completion of training awards you with either a certificate or a diploma. 

Most people earn a high school diploma and then enter a program at a community college or technical school.  At the end of two years in the training program, the student receives an associate's degree. 


Dental assistant schools

There are private vocational schools that offer dental assistant courses lasting only four to six months in duration.  However, they are not accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.  If you study through one of these schools, you risk finding yourself unable to advance at some point in your career since many employers and states require basic training to be done through an accredited program. 

Many communities offer an option in which a local technical school is partnered with a high school program.  This is for the student who has most of her academic credits out of the way, and she reports to her high school for a minimum amount of hours during the week.  Most of her time beginning with the junior year is spent at the technical school studying a general curriculum for broadly diversified health occupations.  During the senior year, the student studies patient care technician skills.  This is where the student zeroes in on dental assistant training.  At one point she actually shadows someone who already works as a dental assistant. 

Those students who meet requirements will have the option, during the second semester of their senior year, for on-the-job training.  When the student graduates from high school she is already qualified to work as a dental assistant.  In some cases, her on-the-job dental assistant training supervisor offers her a permanent position. 


Already finished with high school?

These same types of technical schools offer part-time weekend or evening dental assistant training to those who are already finished with high school.  They are wonderful options for someone who works full time but wishes to advance herself.  Once you have completed your dental assistant training, during or after high school, you can take the test to become a certified dental assistant. 

In most States, the tasks that can be performed by a dental assistant are spelled out by the state's licensure regulatory board.  But be aware that some states will not give you a license until you have been tested and certified by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).  This is a nonprofit certifying body recognized by the American Dental Assistants Association, the American Dental Education Association, and the American Association of Dental Examiners.  The DANB is recognized or required in more than thirty States.  The test includes questions on chairside assistant, infection control, and radiographic procedures. 

After you have received your CDA (certified dental assistant) credential, you can apply to your state for licensure.  You can learn your own State's requirements by going to their home page and typing "dental assistant" into the search bar. 

Many of the states have variations in their requirements.  For example, many have adopted different standards for dental assistant jobs that include advanced duties such as radiological procedures.  Often a State-approved course in dental assistant radiography is required.  The DANB's Radiation Health and Safety examination meets the standards set by over thirty states.  In many states this additional radiography course is a one- or two-day program. 

Just about all dental assistants are required to be certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.  And to maintain your certification, you are required to submit proof that you have attended relevant continuing education seminars every year or so. 

Please look for our upcoming article on how to apply for a dental assistant program. 

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