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Becoming a Dental Assistant: What You Need to Know

Have you always wanted to pursue a career in dentistry? If so, then you’re not alone. In fact, the U.S. News’ World Report ranked professions in dentistry as some of the top career choices in the nation. For this reason, the field is projected to grow at a rapid rate. You can expect the employment rate for dentists to grow by 7% throughout 2018-2028. 

Many associate dentistry with being a dentist. Although being a dentist is certainly a rewarding career, it is also a challenging and requires many sacrifices. For some, it may feel discouraging to realize the duration and cost of dental school. On average, dental school takes four years to complete, and most dental students graduate with $400,000 worth of debt.  

Don’t despair, as other alternatives exist. Luckily the field of dentistry is diverse, and there are certainly alternative dental career options that are just as reputable, like dental assisting.

As a dental assistant, you’ll enjoy the responsibility of working in a dental office alongside dentists and dental hygienists, helping to make sure your dental practice runs smoothly.

A dental assistant job description entails the following responsibilities:

  • Clerical tasks, such as maintaining patient intake
  • Preparing treatment rooms prior to a procedure
  • Sterilizing equipment before and after procedures
  • Taking patient x-rays and complete any lab tasks instructed by the dentist
  • Offering supervised assistance during procedures 

Your Career Path as a Dental Assistant    

As a dental assistant, you gain exposure to the field of dentistry, which gives you the opportunity to grow. One has the option of becoming a Certified Dental Assistant (DCA), Registered Dental Assistant (RDA), or an Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA). 

Registered dental assistants must pass an additional examination and then will be allowed to take on more responsibilities than their counterparts, and will have a bigger role assisting the dentist during procedures. A certified dental assistant is responsible for clerical responsibilities, as well as attending to patients prior to the dentist’s arrival. An Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) is a highly skilled dental assistant who has not only furthered their education, but also has a substantial amount of experience working in dental practices.

The majority of dental assistants work in dental offices. This gives them the benefit of working alongside, and learning from, dentists and dental hygienists, Many dental assistants eventually choose to pursue other fields in dentistry like dental hygiene, or more administrative roles, such as dental office management. Likewise, many dental assistants eventually go on to pursue nursing career paths. 

Do Dental Assistants Need a College Degree? 

Dental assistance does not require a four-year college degree, which is why it is a popular career choice among people interested in dentistry. However, most states require dental assistants to undergo certification; thus, people may benefit from formal training or courses that will prepare students for required state board exams. 

Dental assisting programs vary in duration, but typically only take 9 months to two years to complete, depending on the certification. Alternatively, accelerated programs that offer real hands-on clinical experience, like The Professional Dental Assistant School, can be completed in as little as 8 weeks. 

People can research their state’s certification requirements by visiting the Dental Assistant National Board’s (DANB) website. 

Salary

You’re probably thinking to yourself, “how much do dental assistants make?” Well, that varies by state, as well as experience level. In 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that on average dental assistants earn $38,660 annually; whereas a dental assistant employed in Connecticut will earn an average annual salary of $41,042. However, you can expect a part time dental assistant to earn less than a full time salaried assistant. 

Career Outlook

As mentioned, the demand for preventative dental health services is growing at a rapid rate in the United States. Fortunately, this means that the demand for dental assistants will only continue to increase. To be exact, employment for dental assistants is predicted to grow 11% by 2028. There are certainly opportunities to pursue dental assistant careers, especially as the field of dentistry evolves.

Working as a dental assistant is a rewarding and growing career path that you certainly should not miss out on. Please research your state’s certification requirements beforehand, as well as local dental assistant programs in your area.