Dental Assistant Program Overviews

Jan 02, 2019

In dental assisting programs, students learn how to perform administrative, laboratory and patient care tasks under the supervision of licensed dentists. Students can pursue certificates, diplomas and associate's degrees in the field.

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Essential Information

Dental assistant training programs are offered through vocational schools and community colleges with curriculum topics ranging from chair-side assisting techniques to dental radiology. Students have the opportunity to learn through both traditional lecture-style courses and clinical sessions.

Admission requirements include a high school diploma, proof of current immunizations and CPR training. Graduates of these programs are qualified to take state licensing exams.

Certificate Programs in Dental Assisting

Certificate programs in dental assisting focus on the skills necessary to work as and become certified as a dental assistant. Dental assisting courses teach students how to assist dentists with routine dental procedures, take x-rays and maintain patient records. Through classroom instruction, lab work and clinical rotations, students learn about dental equipment and assisting techniques. Some typical courses within the certificate program include:

  • Dental science
  • Dental radiology
  • Dental materials
  • Dental office practices

Diploma Programs in Dental Assisting

Similar to certificate programs, diploma programs in dental assisting last about one year and prepare students for licensing and certification. Diploma programs are offered at vocational or technical schools. The curriculum of these programs combine clinical work and classroom instruction. The coursework focuses on the tools and assisting techniques used in dental assisting. Topics examined in the program include:

  • Human biology
  • Oral anatomy
  • Dental office management
  • Licensing exam preparation

Associate's Degree Programs in Dental Assisting

An associate's degree in dental assisting provides general education studies, in combination with dental assisting courses. The general education coursework covers areas such as communication and psychology while the dental assisting portion covers dental practice topics. Programs typically take two years to complete and are offered by many community colleges. In addition to classroom lectures, students are required to participate in labs and clinical rotations. Topics covered in the major core courses include:

  • Dental radiography
  • Lab techniques
  • Dental office management
  • Dental anatomy

Popular Career Options

Dental assistants are employed by general dentistry practices, as well as specialty offices such as orthodontics, periodontics, pediatric and dental prosthesis. Some dental assistants work in the front office as receptionists or office managers.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental assisting jobs were expected to grow 18% between 2014 and 2024. In May 2015, the BLS reported dental assistants earned a mean annual wage of $36,920.

Licensing and Continuing Education

Most states require dental assistants to become licensed, although requirements vary by state. Certification is offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Some states also require continuing education in order to maintain the license. Continuing education helps dental assistants keep up with any changes or developments in the dental field. Organizations, such as the American Dental Assistant Association provide opportunities for continuing education.

With additional coursework, dental assistants can become certified by the DANB in dental radiography or dental infection control. An associate's degree in dental assisting might be a good choice for the student who intends to pursue a bachelor's degree. Some coursework might transfer to a four-year college or university.

In summary, students interested in a career as a dental assistant can complete a certificate, diploma, or associate's degree program. These programs include a combination of classroom courses and clinical experience to prepare students for licensure. Program graduates can look forward to faster-than-average employment growth.

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