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Dental Assistant Training

There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements and dental assistants learn how to do their jobs through on-the-job training. Assistants who perform lab tasks, such as taking impressions of a patient's teeth, work under the direction of a licensed dentist. They may prepare materials for dental impressions or to create temporary crowns.

Dental hygienists use many types of tools to do their job. They clean and polish teeth with hand, power, and ultrasonic tools. In some cases, they use lasers. Hygienists remove stains with an air-polishing device, which sprays a combination of air, water, and baking soda. They may also polish teeth with a powered tool that works much like an automatic toothbrush. Hygienists use x-ray machines to take pictures to check for tooth or jaw problems. Some states allow hygienists with additional training, sometimes called dental therapists, to work with an expanded scope of practice.

States that allow assistants to perform expanded duties, such as coronal polishing, require that they be licensed, registered, or hold certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To earn certification from DANB, applicants must pass an exam. The educational requirements for DANB certification are that dental assistants must either have graduated from an accredited program or have a high school diploma and complete the required amount of work experience. Applicants also must have current certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).


Dental assistants typically do the following:

  1. Ensure that patients are comfortable in the dental chair.
  2. Prepare patients and the work area for treatments and procedures.
  3. Sterilize dental instruments.
  4. Hand instruments to dentists during procedures.
  5. Dry patients' mouths using suction hoses and other equipment.
  6. Instruct patients in proper oral hygiene.
  7. Process x-rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist.
  8. Keep records of dental treatments.
  9. Schedule patient appointments.
  10. Work with patients on billing and payment.

There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements and dental assistants learn how to do their jobs through on-the-job training. Assistants who perform lab tasks, such as taking impressions of a patient's teeth, work under the direction of a licensed dentist. They may prepare materials for dental impressions or to create temporary crowns.

Coronal polishing, which means removing soft deposits such as plaque, gives teeth a cleaner appearance. In sealant application, a dental assistant paints a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities. Fluoride application, in which fluoride is put directly on the teeth, is another anti-cavity measure. Some dental assistants may be qualified to apply topical anesthetic to an area of a patient's mouth, temporarily numbing the area to help prepare a patient for procedures.


What education does a dental assistant or dental hygienist need?

Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. Most programs are offered by community colleges, although they also may be offered by vocational or technical schools. Most programs take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Programs that last 2 years are less common and lead to an associate's degree. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), part of the American Dental Association, accredited nearly 300 dental assisting training programs in 2017.

Accredited programs include classroom and laboratory work. Students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. These programs also include supervised practical experience.


What licenses or certificates are required for dental assistants?

States typically do not require licenses for entry-level dental assistants. Some states require dental assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified for entry or advancement. States may require assistants to meet specific licensing requirements in order to work in radiography (x ray), infection control, or other specialties. For specific requirements, contact your state's Board of Dental Examiners.

States that allow assistants to perform expanded duties, such as coronal polishing, require that they be licensed, registered, or hold certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To earn certification from DANB, applicants must pass an exam. The educational requirements for DANB certification are that dental assistants must either have graduated from an accredited program or have a high school diploma and complete the required amount of work experience. Applicants also must have current certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).


How much can a dental assistant earn per year?

Dental assistants held about 332,000 jobs in 2017. The median annual wage for dental assistants was $36,940 in May 2017. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $52,000. Most dental assistants work full time. However, nearly 1 in 3 assistants worked part time in 2017. Some may work evenings or weekends.

Employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 19 percent from 2017 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. As dental practices grow, more dental assistants will be needed. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services. Dentists will continue to hire dental assistants to complete routine tasks, allowing the dentist to work more efficiently.

Dental assistants may wear safety glasses, surgical masks, protective clothing, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. They also must follow safety procedures to minimize risks associated with x-ray machines.






Medical Jobs
(updated hourly)
Starting
(up to)
Dental Hygienists$30,430
EMT, Paramedics$39,390
Fitness Trainers$31,710
Licensed Vocational Nurses (LVN)$44,480
Massage Therapists$33,000
Medical Assistants$28,980
Medical Lab Technicians$30,550
Mental Health$34,550
Nursing$47,760
Occupational Therapists$66,010
Physical Therapists$65,050
Physician Assistants$41,270
Public Health$52,250
Radiologic Technicians$52,110
Registered Nurses (RN)$59,730
Rehabilitation$49,350
Respiratory Therapy Technician$39,860
Surgical Technologists $45,680
Ultrasound$41,090
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