How Can I Become a Certified Dental Assistant?

Research what it takes to become a certified dental assistant. Learn about education requirements, job duties, salary and job growth to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Certified Dental Assistant?

Dental assistants perform various tasks in a dentist's office, including clinical assistance during dental procedures and administrative duties like scheduling. They are well-rounded professionals, who have some specific clinical knowledge, and are also able to help keep the practice running smoothly. Almost all dental assistants work in dentist offices, alongside hygienists and dentists. As a dental assistant, you might operate the suction equipment, hand the dentist needed tools, take x-rays, prepare patient work areas, greet patients or make sure they're comfortable, schedule appointments, or maintain records. Some dental assistants also take impressions of teeth, polish them or apply sealant. The following chart gives you an overview about a career in this field.

Degree Required None required; postsecondary certificate, diploma and associate's degree programs available, which may help secure a job
Education Field of Study Dental assisting
Key Responsibilities Assist dentist with dental procedures; prepare, sterilize and clean equipment and treatment area; maintain patient records and schedule patient appointments
Licensure and/or Certification Some states require licensure; certification requires 3,500 work hours
Job Growth (2014-2024) 18%*
Median Salary (2015) $35,980*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would My Duties as a Certified Dental Assistant Be?

As a dental assistant, you complete various tasks around a dentist's office in order to streamline and ease the dentist's work. You perform office duties such as filing and updating patients' records, assist in dental procedures and provide patient support. The American Dental Association (ADA) notes that working as a dental assistant requires that you have both interpersonal and technical skills for the varied work you do (www.ada.org). You work closely with and under the supervision of a dentist usually in a dentist's office.

What Education Do I Need?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that many dental assistants have little or no formal education after high school and receive on-the-job training as an entry-level assistant (www.bls.gov). Taking classes such as biology, health and chemistry in high school could help you get started in the dentistry field. If you are interested in a training program, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) lists over 200 accredited dental assisting programs in the U.S., which typically take one year to complete and include classroom as well as laboratory and preclinical studies (www.ada.org).

How Do I Become Certified?

Because each state has different requirements concerning the work that dental assistants perform, it is important for you to check with your state for specific licensing and certification rules. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) designation. You can take the CDA exam after completing a CODA-accredited dental assisting program or after receiving a high school diploma and completing 3,500 work hours as a dental assistant. You must also hold a current CPR certification from a DANB-accepted provider (www.danb.org).

What Is the Job Outlook?

The BLS reports that employment for dental assistants is expected to increase 18% in the decade from 2014-2024, which is much faster than the average for all other occupations. The BLS notes that as of May 2015, dental assistants made a median annual wage of $35,980.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Working as a medical assistant is similar in many ways to being a dental assistant. These professionals are based in hospitals or clinics, and assist physicians with any number of administrative and clinical tasks. You might also consider a career as a surgical technician. Surgical technicians are assistants in operating rooms before and during surgery. You can prepare for this career through a postsecondary certificate program or an associate's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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