The medical field is growing and finding a job is easy for those who have the proper training. One area that has experienced incredible growth in recent years is dentistry.
Every new dentist requires two or more assistants, which means the demand for qualified dental assistants is exploding. Unlike many other medical fields, becoming trained in dental assisting can be accomplished in a relatively short time.
What Is Dental Assistant School?
You have several choices regarding your road to becoming a dental assistant. Which path you choose depends on your budget and how much time you can devote to your classes.
There are two types of dental assistant programs from which you can pick. Some are offered at independent dental assistance schools, while others are available through community colleges. Here are your choices:
Associates Degree – The most involved option is to pursue a college degree as a dental assistant. If your schedule is open, you may be able to complete this program in slightly less than two years.
This degree will place you at the top of the list when applying to jobs. It also means you can expect a higher salary than those without a degree.
Certificate – If time or finances are a concern, you can still place yourself in an excellent position as a dental assistant. Many schools offer a certificate or diploma and teach you everything you need to know to work as a dental assistant.
Unlike the associate’s degree program, earning a certificate or diploma can be accomplished in half the time. Many students can take ‘fast-track’ programs that will have you in the market for a job in just under a year.
While the pay is sometimes less than that of someone with a degree, you’ll still earn a respectable salary. In addition, you can attend night school during your off hours and complete the requirements for the dental assistant associate’s degree. The average salary for a dental assistant is $34,740 per year.
What to Expect
Dental assistant school can be challenging. You’ll learn many new things, and your instructors will have high expectations of their students. However, their goal is for you to be successful in your career. They want you to treat your patients professionally, with care, and with respect.
Here is a short list of subjects that you will be expected to learn while in dental assistant school.
- Anatomy – Although much of your time will be spent examining a patient’s teeth, gums, and jaw, you will also learn about the body’s anatomy, including the cardio-pulmonary system, lymphatic system, and nervous system. Dental assistants need to have a thorough understanding of these anatomy basics to comprehend their relationship to oral hygiene and the health of teeth and gums.
- Pharmacology – Dentistry often involves using certain medications to address oral hygiene issues. Learning which drugs are used for managing pain or infection, and knowing how to properly administer those medications is an essential role of a dental assistant.
- Dental Materials – Knowing what types of materials a dentist will need to have available during dental procedures and having them ready for a dentist’s use are an important part of your job.
- Radiology –Knowing how to use x-ray equipment so that your patient is safe is critical. You also need to know how to protect yourself and others from potentially harmful radiation exposure. And of course, the dentist wants to have properly prepared scans of the patient’s teeth and jaw.
- Specialty Areas – With the development of highly specialized areas of treatment, dental assistants may sometimes need to focus their studies on just one or two specialty areas.
- Office Administration – As with nearly any career, there is always paperwork that needs to be accomplished before, during, and after a patient visits the office. You need to know areas such as patient records, billing, purchasing, insurance, and many other administrative items.
Jobs After Dental Assistant School
Most dental assistants find work in both small and large dental offices. Some may be sizeable corporations with multiple dentists, while others may be a family dental business with only a handful of employees.
These are some of the most common places to begin a career as a dental assistant. But don’t think those are the only jobs available. Here are some areas where a qualified assistant can find meaningful and rewarding employment:
• Dental school
• Insurance companies
• Public health
• Oral surgery
• Dental material sales
For those who can’t meet the attendance schedule for dental assistant school, there is another option: online programs.
Because dental assistants are in such high demand, several colleges, universities, and dental schools are now providing opportunities to take the classroom portion of their programs online.
Taking these courses online requires a higher level of focus and self-discipline, but their flexibility is a tremendous benefit. For students who need to work during the day or have families to care for, online programs are there to provide the training you need to become a skilled dental assistant.
Most of these online programs require students to complete an internship at a dental office. Hands-on practical experience is essential to be a qualified dental assistant.
Many dentists offer both paid and unpaid internships, so you should shop around before settling on a specific dentist with which to work.
What to Consider Before Applying
As mentioned earlier, there are different types of dental assistant programs available. You should spend some serious time contemplating your budget, the time you have available to attend classes, transportation, and the amount of time you can commit to studying.
You also need to consider whether you have the right personality to be a dental assistant. Many people are not very fond of a dental office, and they associate visits with pain, injections, and uncomfortable procedures. You must be able to calm those who are anxious about being in the dentist’s chair and to deal with uncooperative patients.
There are certain physical demands on dental assistants as well. You may want to visit your family doctor before applying to make sure you don’t have any medical conditions which may interfere with your ability to accomplish your job.
You have a lot to consider about becoming a dental assistant, but there are also many benefits. Skilled assistants are in high demand, so if you study hard and become proficient at performing the tasks required for the job, you may find yourself in the perfect career.