During the course of dental assistant training programs, individuals gain valuable work experience through clinical rotations and internship opportunities in dental school clinics, dental offices and community clinics. They also learn about patient record keeping, equipment sterilization, patient relations, and laboratory procedures.
With regards to program length, certificates generally take one year to complete, while associate's degrees take two years. Applicants to both programs will require a high school diploma or GED to enroll, as well as prerequisite science and computer coursework.
Dental Assistant Certificate Program
Certificate programs in dental assisting focus on providing the knowledge and skills needed to perform chairside assisting functions. Students are introduced to basic lab procedures, clinical support services, and business office duties. Certificate programs provide a broad educational experience that includes theoretical classroom instruction, applied practice in skill labs and clinical community phases that allow students to become competent in all dental assisting functions. Students may take classes covering topics such as:
- Dental fundamentals and terminology
- Oral anatomy
- Dental materials and tools
- Oral radiology and pharmacology
- Chairside assisting principles
- Dental office management
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Associate of Science in Dental Assisting
To provide a more well-rounded education, associate degree programs combine dental assisting coursework with general education requirements such as mathematics, communication, and humanities. Didactical and clinical training are emphasized through hands-on learning experiences in simulation lab hours, as well as internships at community-based dental practices. Class topics may include:
- Dental health and nutrition
- Oral anatomy and physiology
- Dental infection control
- Dental science and terminology
- Dental materials and radiology
Although state regulations vary in regards to what duties can be performed by dental assistants, nearly all of them require candidates to obtain the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential awarded to those that have passed the national certification exam administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Certification is only valid for one year and the recertification process includes the completion of 12 continuing education credits each year. Continuing education requirements ensure professional dental assistants are continuously improving their knowledge and skills while staying up to date with current technologies used in the field.
In some states dental assistants who perform advanced duties, such as radiological procedures, are required to also complete a state-approved radiation and health safety examination. Due to varying standards and licensing requirements aspiring dental assistants are encouraged to contact their state's dental assisting board before beginning preparations to enter the field.
Continuing Education Information
Dental assistants can choose from a variety of professional development opportunities to expand their knowledge. Professional organizations, such as the DANB, provide opportunities for dental assistants to learn from guest speaker events, online courses, and real-time webinars. As an entry-level position in the dental industry, many will use their training and experience as dental assistants to help them pursue high levels of education such as dental hygiene training programs.
Completing a certificate or associate's degree program in dental assisting will qualify students for entry-level positions as dental assistants. These programs can prepare students for certification, which is required in some states.