You don’t have to be a dentist to help people improve their smiles and maintain their oral health.
If you’ve always been interested in dentistry but don’t want to invest a significant amount of time earning a Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree, you have other options. For example, you can be a dental hygienist or dental technician. You can also become a dental assistant.
Speaking of dental careers, you might wonder, “What do you need to become a dental assistant?” Here, we’ll talk about dental assistant requirements, tips for working in the field, and why it’s an excellent career choice.
First Things First: What Is a Dental Assistant?
Before you look for the best dental assistant program or school, you must understand what the job entails.
As a dental assistant, your duties may include scheduling appointments and other administrative tasks. You’ll also take X-rays, sanitize dental equipment, prepare patients for procedures, and so on. It’s a versatile role that will keep you on your toes and train you to learn new skills the longer you stay at the job.
Keep in mind that some people confuse dental assistants with dental hygienists. If you want to work directly with patients, performing dental procedures on them, becoming a dental hygienist may be more suited for you. However, there are more educational requirements and certifications to consider compared to that of a dental assistant.
So What Do You Need to Become a Dental Assistant?
Do you need to go to a particular dental assistant school to succeed in this career?
The good news is some dental offices accept candidates with a high school diploma. If you want to be more attractive to potential employers, though, consider improving your qualifications.
After earning a high school diploma, making sure you’ve taken classes in biology, chemistry, and anatomy, the following steps to take include:
1. Choosing a Dental Assisting Program
Local community colleges, vocational or technical schools may offer an associate’s degree, certificate, or diploma for dental assisting. Depending on the program you’ve chosen, the coursework usually includes oral anatomy, dental office administration, dental radiography, dental materials, and so on.
When choosing a program, opt for one that is CODA-accredited. CODA stands for Commission on Dental Accreditation.
2. Complete an Externship
To set yourself apart from the competition, consider an externship. That means you’ll be working voluntarily in a dentist’s office to gain experience.
Don’t worry if this isn’t a paid gig, as this is your chance to work on your chairside assisting skills and other areas covered in your coursework. You can also use this opportunity to decide where to focus your career. While some prefer to work for general dentists, other dental assistants want to work with pediatric or cosmetic dentists.
Let’s say you love kids. Of course, you’ll want to pick a dental office specializing in pediatric dental care for your externship. Or, if you’re interested in orthodontics, then ask to be placed in an orthodontist’s office if your school provides this as part of the coursework.
3. Get Certified According to the Requirements of Your State
Once you’ve completed your coursework, including your externship, the next step is to obtain a certification. Requirements to get certified varies from state to state, so be sure to contact your state’s dental board.
If you need to take the CDA or Certified Dental Assistant Exam, the passing mark is 400 out of 900. You can retake the test if you fail the first time or take additional coursework per your state’s policies.
4. Apply for Jobs
You’ve completed the requirements for becoming a dental assistant. Now, it’s time to send out resumes to potential employers.
Once hired, gain as much in-the-field experience as you can. Like other dental careers, think about the value of lifelong learning and how it would benefit you.
Becoming a dental assistant with expanded functions is one path to consider. For information on how to get started, check out this guide by Ultimate Medical Academy.
Top Tips for Working as a Dental Assistant
Successful dental assistants don’t just possess excellent administrative skills. They work on their communication skills to work with patients and the other dental care team members.
Since the job requires working with dental materials, it’s also good to have finger and manual dexterity and arm-hand steadiness. Familiarizing yourself with the various instruments and equipment used in a dental office and understanding how to utilize each one properly can also help you excel in your job.
Last but not least is attention to detail. Even if you’re using the latest software to collect and input patient information, you can’t be a stellar dental assistant if you’re not detail-oriented. From history-taking to transferring records, paying particular attention to the minutiae of documentation will help you become an indispensable part of the dental service team.
Why Should You Choose This Career Path?
The median pay for dental assistants in 2020 is over $40,000 annually. Growth for this occupation is at 7%, which is faster than average than other jobs.
That means the potential for financial stability is high. You also don’t have to worry about job opportunities since the outlook is quite good.
Another reason to go for this career option is the time investment. You don’t need to spend years finishing a dental assisting program. Some schools even offer less than a year to complete the coursework, while others provide a two-year program.
Are You Interested in a Dental Career?
Now that you know the answer to “What do you need to become a dental assistant?” are you thinking about pursuing a dental career?
If yes, don’t forget to do further research on your options. Becoming a dental assistant can be fulfilling, but you can also become a dental hygienist, dental technician, or dentist.
For more information on other dental career options, don’t forget to check out our other posts. We also have tons of career-related articles that might interest you. For other topics such as health and fitness, business, finance, and more, please browse our different sections.