How to Become a Dental Assistant in 6 Simple Steps

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What is a Dental Assistant

A dental assisting career is a really promising career in the healthcare field with a really good outlook. Continue reading our complete guide and learn everything you need to know and answer efficiently the question “How to become a dental assistant?”

Dental assistants are a vital part of a dental team helping both dentists and administrative personnel by providing a variety of services to the clients.

The daily duties of a dental assistant are:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Explaining procedures to patients
  • Taking X-rays
  • Sterilizing instruments
  • Assisting dentists with routine procedures
  • Ordering dental supplies
  • Preparing instrument trays
  • Handling tools to the dentist
  • Maintaining patient histories and treatment records

Dental assistants need to have excellent communication skills as they are working with patients and dental personnel on a daily basis. They have also to explain to the patients the dental procedure in plain English and make them feel comfortable as there are a lot of people afraid of dentists.

Writing is another skill dental assistants should possess. They schedule appointments, maintain patients’ histories and treatment records, they also answer to emails, so good writing skills are required for a successful career in dental assisting.

Last but not least, dental assistants need good organizational skills. Part of their job is to check the supplies and order new ones if needed. They also schedule dentist’s appointments. Lack of organizational skills could end in shortage of supplies and double dates being scheduled.

Dental assistants work mostly full time at dentist’s offices. They might work at evenings too as the majority of their working patients will schedule appointments in the evenings.

The average salary of a dental assistant is $35,390
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What is a Dental Assistant

Becoming a Dental Assistant

Step 1: High School Preparation

Dental Assistant High School Requirements

Science Classes

Like all healthcare professionals aspiring dental assistants should take biology and chemistry classes in high school. It will help them understand basic anatomy and the functions of the human body. It will also help them be prepared for the coursework when studying in a training program.

Communication and writing courses

As we mentioned before dental assistants are working with people, either colleagues or clients daily, so building strong communication skills from high school is a good idea.

Classes like rhetoric, speech and debate will help with this. Also taking some English courses will help them sharpen their writing skills.

Business management classes

Most of the time dental assistants have administrative duties too. They talk with suppliers and schedule appointments with patients. Having a basic knowledge of business management will help them for sure.

Step 2: Get Dental Assisting Training

Dental Assistant Certificate Program 3 months – 1 year

Dental assistant certificate programs are 30 to 40 semester credit hours programs that can be completed either online or on campus.

The admission requirements are a high school diploma or something equivalent like a GED.

Curriculum

  • Human Biology
  • General Psychology I
  • Public Speaking
  • Chairside Dental Assisting
  • Infection Control in Dentistry Credits
  • Dental Radiography
  • Oral Health Promotion
  • Dental Practice Management
  • Dental Assistant Clinical Practicum
  • Dental Materials
  • Administrative Procedures for the Dental Assistant
  • Dental Infection Control
  • Oral Anatomy and Pathophysiology
  • Professional Skills for the Workplace
  • First Aid and CPR

The cost of a Dental assistant certificate program is between $6,250 and $18,000.

When deciding which college or university to attend, we strongly recommend contacting them for further information and details.

Click the button below to get free info about accredited dental assistant certificate programs near you.
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Dental Assistant Associate’s Degree program 2 years

Dental Assistant Associate’s Degree programs are 60 to 70 semester credit hours degrees that can be completed mostly on campus.

It is not really hard to get accepted to a program like that as you will only need a high school diploma or a GED.

Curriculum

General Education Requirements (25 credits)

  • Human Anatomy & Physiology I
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology II
  • Principles of Communication
  • College Composition
  • Culture and Diversity
  • College Mathematics
  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Self-Integration and Computer Literacy
  • Career Orientation
  • Essentials for Success
  • Computer Applications

Core Courses (30 credits)

  • Dental Anatomy
  • Introduction to Dental Assisting
  • Dental Fundamentals
  • Clinical Science
  • Community Health
  • Dental Chairside Assisting
  • Dental Chairside Assisting LAB
  • Dental Materials
  • Dental Materials LAB
  • Dental Radiology
  • Dental Radiology LAB
  • Clinical Dental Procedures
  • Clinical Dental Procedures LAB
  • Dental Practice Management
  • Clinical Rotation I
  • Seminar I
  • Clinical Rotation II
  • Seminar II
  • Medical Terminology

Elective Courses (15 credits)

  • Computer Usage and Applications
  • Survey of Computer Information Systems
  • Introductory Nutrition
  • Business Communication
  • Healthcare Leadership
  • Healthful Living
  • Women’s Health Issues
  • Office Ethics and Culture
  • Lifetime Fitness

The cost of a Dental Assistant Associate’s Degree program is between $19,500 and $70,320.

When deciding which college or university to attend, we strongly recommend contacting them for further information and details.

Click the button below to get free info about accredited Associate’s Degree programs near you.
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Step 3: Complete an externship (Optional)

A good option after finishing you dental assistant’s training by either completed a certificate or an Associate’s degree program is to complete an externship.

Externships are training programs offered by academic programs that give you the opportunity to work voluntarily under the supervision of a certified professional.

Externships not only give you valuable working experience but also allow you to specialize in a dentistry field if you want to.

Fields like: orthodontic care, pediatric and prosthodontics are available for training in externships.

Step 4: Get Licensed

In order to perform all the duties assigned by a dentist in some states dental assistants need to get licensed.

While the requirements vary from state to state the most common ones are: the completion of an accredited postsecondary educational program and the successfully completion of a practical or written exam.

Step 5: Get a Certification

Dental Assisting National Board certifications are recognized and required by 38 states.

There are 5 fields that you can get specialized and certified in.

  • (NELDA™) National Entry Level Dental Assistant –
  • (COA®) Certified Orthodontic Assistant
  • (CDA®) Certified Dental Assistant™
  • (CRFDA®) Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant
  • (CPFDA®) Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant

National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA™)

Requirements

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Completed an accredited postsecondary dental assisting training program
  • CPR certification

OR

  • High school diploma or GED
  • At least 3,500 hours of working experience
  • CPR certification

OR

  • Completed a dental degree program outside the U.S, or completed a CODA-accredited DDS or DMD program, or Former DANB CDA status
  • CPR certification

Examinations

You need to pass 3 exams:

Anatomy, Morphology and Physiology (AMP)

105 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 80 minutes.

Radiation Health and Safety

100 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 1and ¼ hours.

Infection Control

100 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 1and ¼ hours.

Cost: $325

Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA®)

Requirements

  • At least 3,500 hours of   working experience
  • RDH or RDA credential or Former DANB CDA status
  • CPR certification

OR

  • High school diploma or GED
  • At least 3,500 hours of working experience
  • CPR certification

OR

  • Completed a orthodontic assisting preparation course from a CODA-accredited dental assisting training program
  • DANB CDA certification
  • CPR certification

OR

  • Completed a dental degree program outside the U.S, or completed a CODA-accredited DDS or DMD program, or Former DANB COA status
  • CPR certification

Examinations

You need to pass 2 exams:

Orthodontic Assisting (OA)

210 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 2and ¾ hours.

Infection Control (ICE)

100 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 1and ¼ hours.

Cost: $375

Certified Dental Assistant™ (CDA®)

Requirements

  • Completed a CODA-accredited dental hygiene or dental assisting training program
  • CPR certification

OR

  • High school diploma or GED
  • At least 3,500 hours of working experience
  • CPR certification

OR

  • Completed a dental degree program outside the U.S, or completed a CODA-accredited DDS or DMD program, or Former DANB CDA status
  • CPR certification

Examinations

You need to pass 3 exams:

General Chairside Assisting (GC)

120 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 1 and ½ hours.

Radiation Health and Safety

100 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 1and ¼ hours.

Infection Control

100 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 1and ¼ hours.

Cost: $375

Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA®)

Requirements

  • Former DANB CDA with certification expired in the last 2 years Verification of knowledge each of the four CPFDA functions
  • Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) from a CPR provider

OR

  • Completed a CODA-accredited dental assisting training program
  • Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) from a CPR provider

OR

  • Completed an Expanded Functions Dental Assisting or restorative course from a CODA-accredited dental hygiene or dental assisting training program
  • At least 3,500 hours of   work experience in dental assisting in the last 2 to 4 years
  • Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) from a CPR provider

Examinations

You need to pass 6 exams:

Anatomy, Morphology and Physiology (AMP)

105 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 80 minutes.

Impressions (IM)

80 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 1 hour.

Temporaries (TMP)

80 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 1 hour.

Isolation (IS)

60 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 45 minutes.

Sealants (SE)

50 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 45 minutes.

Restorative Functions (RF)

105 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 80 minutes.

Cost: $775

Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA®)

Requirements

  • DANB CDA certification
  • Verification of knowledge each of the four CPFDA functions
  • Completed a CODA-accredited dental hygiene or dental assisting training program
  • CPR certification

OR

  • Completed a CODA-accredited dental hygiene or dental assisting training program
  • Verification of knowledge each of the four CPFDA functions
  • CPR certification

OR

  • Former DANB CDA with certification expired in the last 2 years
  • At least 3,500 hours of work experience in dental assisting in the last 4 years
  • Verification of knowledge each of the four CPFDA functions
  • CPR certification

OR

  • Registered Dental Hygienist license
  • At least 3,500 hours of   work experience in dental hygiene in the last 5 years
  • CPR certification

Examinations

You need to pass 4 exams:

Coronal Polish (CP)

100 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 1 and ¼ hours.

Sealants (SE)

50 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 45 minutes.

Topical Anesthetic (TA)

50 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 45 minutes.

Topical Fluoride (TF)

50 multiple choice written test that should be completed in 45 minutes.

Cost: $375

Step 6: Advance Your Career (Optional)

After you get certified and get couple years of working experience under your belt, if you decide that this is a profession that you like and feel like advancing your career you can apply your certificate’s or associate’s degree credits towards a dental hygiene bachelor’s degree and become a dental hygienist.

How Long Does it take to Become a Dental Assistant and How Much does it Cost?

Option1: Certificate

Degree Time Cost
Certificate 3 months – 12 months6,250- $18, 000
Certification 1 month$325 - $375
Total 4 months – 13 months $6,575 - $18,375

Option 2: Associate’s Degree

Degree Time Cost
Associates Degree2 years$19,500 to $70,320
Certification 1 month $325 - $375
Total 2 years & 1 month $19,825 - $70,695
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