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Dental Assistant Certification and Requirements

Dental assistants work alongside dentists to help patients achieve optimal oral health. They may do everything from routine tasks, like scheduling patients or sterilizing the equipment, to more advanced procedures, like polishing teeth or applying sealants. Dental health is an important part of overall health, but going to the dentist can sometimes be an uncomfortable or scary experience, especially for children. A dental assistant's job is helping patients to feel comfortable both before and during their dental procedures.

In order to enter the field of dental assisting, you will need training -- either on-the-job or through an accredited dental assisting school. Your state's regulations, your own certifications or the needs of your employer may dictate the scope of your dental assisting practice. While most dental assistants work in dentist's offices, they may also work with orthodontists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, clinics or even for an insurance company.

And, as more people gain access to health care that includes dental coverage, the need for well-trained dental assistants will continue to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), predicts 25 percent job growth through 2022. That is much faster than average and represents over 74,000 projected job openings nationwide.

Educational requirements for dental assistants

Entry-level requirements for dental assistants (danb.org) vary by state and can range from on-the-job training to an associate degree and certification. Employers may also determine the level of training needed and some may require certification even if your state does not.

If you are interested in dental assisting as a high school student, you'll want to start your training by taking classes in biology and anatomy. Once you graduate, you may want to apply to an accredited dental assisting school. You can find dental assisting programs at career and technical schools, as well as community colleges. Diploma and certificate programs generally last one year. It may take approximately two years of full-time study to complete an associate degree program.

Accredited dental assisting programs combine classroom training with hands-on experience. Students study the teeth, gums, and jaw, as well as learning about the tools and techniques for cleaning and caring for them. Additionally, you may learn specific skills, like how to take x-rays or how to provide emergency dental care.

Your state may require you to pass a state-specific certification exam or a national certification exam through the Dental Assisting National Board. To become certified by the Dental Assisting National Board, you must have a minimum of on-the-job training and roughly two years experience (3,500 hours) or have graduated from an accredited dental assisting program. You will also need to be trained in CPR.

Benefits of dental assistant certification

Some states will require you to be a CDA, Certified Dental Assistant. Being certified can help prove you have achieved a level of professional competence. Certification can make you more attractive to potential employers even if it is not a state requirement. Also, certain states only allowed certified dental assistants to perform specific duties or advanced procedures. DANB offers certifications for:

  • General chairside assisting
  • Infection control
  • Sealants
  • Impressions
  • Coronal polishing
  • Topical anesthesia
  • Topical fluoride
  • Radiation health and safety
  • Temporaries
  • Orthodontic assisting
  • Impressions

Advanced certifications essentially combine several certificate-level exams. Gaining this level of certification can help you to advance your career or allow you to specialize your practice. Advanced certifications are available for:

  • Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)
  • Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant
  • Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant

Sources:

"Become Certified," Dental Assisting National Board, http://www.danb.org/Become-Certified.aspx

Dental Assistants, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm

"Meet State Requirements," Dental Assisting National Board, http://www.danb.org/Meet-State-Requirements.aspx

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