Dental Assistant Degree
A dental assistant degree educates professionals on how to provide supportive and supplemental work to a dentist. Dental assistants are different from dental hygienists and are licensed in entirely separate ways.
Dental assistants will need to be able to work well with others. They will be performing their duties under the direction of a dentist. A dental assistant may also have to defer to a hygienist. Excellent manual dexterity is helpful, as dental assistants will be working with their hands on patients alongside dentists. As with other medical professionals, being able to connect and having a warm personality will help provide excellent customer service to patients.
In a majority of states, entry-level dental assistants do not have education or training requirements. As of 2009, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) had given its approval to 281 programs for dental assistant training. The 1 year programs give a certificate or diploma. Community colleges offer 2 year programs which result in an associate’s degree.
Some vocational schools may offer a dental assistant course which lasts 4 to 6 months. CODA does not accredit these courses. Most dentists will give greater weight to a CODA-accredited program on any prospective dental assistant’s resume.
Following graduation, most dental assistants learn and are trained as they work. The dentists, hygienists, or other assistants will train new hires in instruments and procedures specific to their workplace.
Nearly all states have laws which only allow dental assistants to perform specific duties. A license or registration may be required before a dental assistant can handle more advanced duties or help with radiological work (such as x-rays). Because of the variation between states, it is strongly recommended that dental assistants contact their state board before beginning a new job.
The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) has created the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) standard, which is accepted or required in 37 states. It may contribute to a dental assistant license in some states. The CDA certification requires that an applicant have attended and graduated from a program with CODA accreditation. Also accepted are 2 years of full-time or 4 years of part-time dental assistant experience under a licensed dentist. The CDA requires that applicants know cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and have a current certification from a recognized organization such as the Red Cross. CDA certification can be renewed if the dental assistant submits continuing education credits.
The CDA certification or a Radiation Health and Safety certification may be necessary before a dental assistant can perform radiological work. One or both of the standards will be accepted in 30 states for radiological certification. Additionally, some states require a state-taught course on radiology.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recorded an average salary of $32,380 in May of 2008 for dental assistants. A 2008 survey by the DANB showed that 86% of dental assistants received paid vacation. Additionally, more than 50% had health benefits from their employer.