If you’re reading this article, you’re probably interested in entering the dental profession. You’re also probably asking a key question: How long does it take to become a dental assistant?
Career Karma has put together this guide to help you answer this question and more about becoming a dental assistant. We will go over the skills you’ll need, career prospects, and the steps you’ll need to launch your career in dental care and management.
What Is a Dental Assistant?
A dental assistant is an administrative, dental health professional who provides patient support before, during, and after cleanings and procedures.
What Does a Dental Assistant Do?
A dental assistant works at a dental practice helping dental hygienists and dentists with preparation, hands-on assistance, clean up, and clerical work.
Dental assistants help dentists and dental hygienists with the preliminary set up necessary for patient care. Assistants will sterilize tools, operate suction tools, and work directly with patients on elements of care like fluoride rinses and dental impressions.
Dental assistants are also in charge of executing the office duties that go along with each patient visit. This includes greeting, checking in, and scheduling patients as well as maintaining and managing patient records. A dental assistant also performs office management tasks like ordering dental and office supplies.
Essential Dental Assistant Skills
Dental assistants should have a variety of skills to help them accomplish both their administrative tasks and their patient care responsibilities.
Attention to Detail
Dental assistants must be highly detail-oriented in their work, both in the office and in the dentist’s chair. They should be detail-oriented when managing patient records and calendars. Organizing, cleaning, and arranging the correct tools and instruments needed for each patient appointment also requires a high level of attention to detail.
Dexterity and Stable Hand
Because dental assistants often hold instruments in place during patient procedures, dexterity and a stable hand are important skills for any dental assistant. Though students can develop these skills during job training, a certain amount of natural dexterity will help a dental assistant succeed.
Dental assistants are often the face of a dental practice. They are the first and the last person that a patient sees. For this reason, dental assistants should have top-notch interpersonal skills to help patients feel comfortable at the dental practice.
Dental Assistant Salaries and Job Outlook
Dental assistants can expect to earn a solid living with a relatively short amount of job training. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assistants make a median annual salary of $40,080.
The job outlook for aspiring dental assistants is particularly positive. The field is growing at a much faster than average rate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assistant job opportunities are projected to grow by 11 percent by 2028.
This growth is partially due to a growing social awareness around oral health and dental hygiene overall. It is also due to our better understanding of the important link between oral health and general medical health.
Depending on your other commitments, you can easily seek out full time or part-time work in this field.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Dental Assistant?
The only requirement to become a dental assistant is a high school diploma or a GED. That said, some aspiring dental assistants choose to pursue a dental assisting program, where they receive hands-on training. Many community colleges offer these programs, which can take anywhere from nine months to two years to complete depending on full-time or part-time enrollment.
Others may seek out a job in a dentist’s office and gain on-the-job training in the field. With either path, you can become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) by taking and passing the Dental Assistant National Board exam. The only requirements for the exam are either the successful completion of a training program or related work experience.
How to Become a Dental Assistant: A Step by Step Guide
Step 1: Get Your High School Diploma
You must have your high school diploma or GED before you pursue a career as a dental assistant.
Step 2: Complete a Dental Assistant Program
Remember that there are many different options for your education path. You can choose a certificate program, a diploma program, or even an associate degree program at a community college or technical school.
Step 3: Get Hands-on work Experience
You will want to get work experience working in a dental practice, either through an internship or in an entry-level position. If you decide to complete a dental assistant program, the program will often have work experience built into the curriculum.
After completing your work hours and completing your program, you can become a Certified Dental Assistant through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) exam.
Should You Become a Dental Assistant?
The field is growing and job prospects are projected to continue to grow. If you are interested in becoming a dental assistant, use this guide as a starting point to help make a decision.
Dental Assistant FAQ
Not including the time it takes to complete a high school diploma, it can take between nine months and two years to complete a dental assistant training program.
To become a Certified Dental Assistant, you have to complete a dental assistant training program or complete a certain amount of work hours. Then, you have to take and pass the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam.
It’s up to you and it depends on exactly what the certificate offers. If you are brand new to the field, a certificate can teach you key skills and connect you to hands-on work experience.
The next step in career advancement would be becoming a dental hygienist. Dental hygienists spend more time on patient care and are predominantly responsible for performing general cleanings and preventative measures.