Graduates of diploma programs in dental assisting are often prepared to work in both the administrative and clinical settings of a dental office. They may also be ready for state certification as dental assistants. Associate's programs in dental office management usually focus solely on administrative topics, like insurance coding or dental terminology, with fewer opportunities for clinical experience than diploma programs. Before choosing a program, students should decide whether they want to specialize in only dental office administration or both administrative and clinical applications.
Both programs require a high school diploma or equivalent for admission with transcripts showing completion of basic math and science. Some programs may require an interview before entry as well. These programs take between one and two years to complete.
Dental Assisting Diploma
This program is offered at community colleges, technical institutes and trade schools. The administrative portion of the curriculum introduces students to basic receptionist responsibilities, business office systems, records management and patient scheduling. In addition to front office skills, student gain entry-level knowledge of sterilization methods, infection control, anatomy and basic chair-side procedures.
Dental assisting programs include classroom instruction, lab work and clinical hands-on experiences that emphasize dental office management and chair-side assisting. The clinical portion typically requires students to complete a set number of externship hours. Required coursework usually includes:
- Oral health and nutrition
- Dental office management
- Dental radiology
- Patient care
- Laboratory practices and procedures
Associate Degree in Dental Office Management
Dental office management programs introduce students to basic dental practices and technologies within the field. Required coursework helps students develop skills in time management, customer service, human relations, critical thinking and teamwork in order to effectively perform the day-to-day administrative duties required in a dental office. Students are provided with introductory professional courses in dental administration, a foundation in liberal arts studies and courses that help develop analytical skills. Typical coursework includes:
- Dental terminology
- Dental office hygiene
- Dental insurance coding and reimbursement
- Business math
- Medical privacy and ethics
- Computer applications
Popular Career Options
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assisting jobs are predicted to grow by 18% between 2014 and 2024. Graduates from dental assisting programs are qualified to perform front office duties and provide hands-on assistance to professional dentists, and typically find job opportunities such as:
- Dental insurance clerks
- Dental laboratory technicians
- Dental supply sales representatives
- Dental office managers
- Dental assistants
An associate degree in dental office management prepares students for entry-level positions in dental offices, clinics and other dental facilities. Job opportunities in the field include:
- Dental office manager
- Dental insurance coder
- Dental claims specialist
- Appointment scheduler or receptionist
Continuing Education Information
Most states regulate what duties can be performed by dental assistants, and approximately 30 of them require dental assistants to receive certification through the Dental Assisting National Board. Continuing education credits are an important requirement of certification and recertification. After completing an entry-level dental assisting program some students will choose to continue their education and become dental hygienists.
As with most graduates of an associate degree program, students can choose to enter the workplace immediately or transfer to a 4-year institution to pursue higher levels of education. Professionals in dental administration are sometimes called upon to attend training courses covering topics such as new software applications, privacy laws and work flow management.
Students who earn either a diploma or an associate's degree in dental administration can learn more about oral health, business math, and dental insurance and coding. Many states require dental assistants to be certified and to take continuing education credits.