Career Info for a Degree in Dental Support Services

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a dental assistant or dental hygienist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about the training, job duties and licensure requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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It may be possible to begin a career in dental support services with a high school diploma. Dental assistants, for example, can enter this field after completing high school, provided their state allows it, or they can opt to complete an accredited dental assistant program. Dental hygienists, on the other hand, need a certificate or associate's degree.

Essential Information

Dental support services include workers who aid dentists and oral surgeons, such as dental assistants and dental hygienists. Dental assistants complete multiple tasks, including making appointments for patients, preparing tools for dentists and assisting dentists with clients. Dental hygienists' duties include cleaning teeth, taking x-rays, performing preventative tooth-decay procedures and educating clients about dental maintenance. Proper training in this field is required due to the fact that all states require licensure for dental hygienists, while some require licensure for dental assisting. If you are the type of individual that cares about are person's dental health and helping others, then this career path may be for you.

Career Dental Assistant Dental Hygienist
Recommended Education High school diploma, accredited dental assistant programs* Certificate or bachelor's degree in dental hygiene*
Other Requirements Licensure required in some states* Licensure required in all states*
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 18% 19%
Average Salary (2015)* $36,920 $72,720

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Information for Dental Support Services

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted that in the decade between 2014 and 2024, open positions for dental assistants will increase by 18%, while those for dental hygienists are expected to rise by 19%. These job fields are projected to experience such high rates of job growth due to both the increasing awareness of the connection between dental and overall health and also the growing elderly population's rising dental health needs.

Salary Statistics

Records from the BLS for May 2015 indicate that the annual average salary for dental assistants that year was $36,920. During the same year, dental hygienists earned a yearly average wage of $72,720. Dental assistants working in New Hampshire, Alaska and Minnesota reported earning the highest annual average salaries in 2015, as per BLS data, while for dental hygienists, salaries were highest in Washington, D.C., California and New Mexico.

Licensure

Licensing procedures for dental assistants could include passing exams to earn a license or to simply register with the state as a dental assistant. The states that require dental assistants to be licensed or registered often allow these assistants to complete more advanced tasks, such as taking and developing patient x-rays. Most states usually require assistants to participate in continued education coursework to renew state licenses.

Although all states require dental hygienists to be licensed, not all states have the same requirements for dental assistants, according to the BLS. Dental hygienist licensing procedures usually involve applicants first passing the American Dental Association's (ADA) written exam. Next, most states administer their own set of practical and written exams to verify an applicant's knowledge of dental hygiene and state dental health laws. As of 2009, the BLS reported that the state of Alabama required applicants to take a state-based written exam instead of the one offered by the ADA.

Degree Information for Dental Support Services

Dental Assistants

Although the BLS states that there currently is no uniform educational requirement for dental assistants other than a high school diploma, there are accredited dental assistant training programs available. Coursework includes dental radiology, dental assisting, office management, chairside skills, dental terminology and billing. Since some states have different requirements for dental assistants, training programs may include additional coursework to meet state standards.

Dental Hygienists

Students can choose to complete either an associate's degree or a certificate program in dental hygiene, although bachelor's and graduate degree programs are also available for more advanced positions. Undergraduate coursework includes oral anatomy, dental health management, radiology, dental hygiene tools and community oral health. Several degree programs include mandatory field exercises and internships so that students can practice dental hygiene techniques on real patients.

Certification Information for Dental Support Services

The BLS indicates that some states have certification requirements for dental assistants and that all states require dental hygienists to be licensed. The most common certification requirements for dental assistants include becoming a certified dental assistant (CDA) and completing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training. To earn the CDA credential, applicants must pass the Dental Assisting National Board exam, which covers questions about radiology, chairside procedures and infectious disease maintenance.

Dental assistants and dental hygienists perform crucial roles in providing dental care to patients. State licensing requirements vary, and it is important to check the specific job requirements for your state when planning to enter this field. Job prospects are good for both dental assistants and dental hygienists, with anticipated job increases of 18% and 19%, respectively, from 2014-2024.

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