Start your New Career in Dental Assisting, Hygiene or Laboratory Work Here.
Welcome to the premier resource for tomorrow’s professional Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists. [Leer en español].
Dental Assistant EDU is a comprehensive guide for prospective students looking to inform their career decision process with accurate data. You’ll find state-by-state information on local requirements for dental assistants and hygienists, salaries by metropolitan district, chapters of professional associations and full listings of available degree programs by region.
Discover the best dental assistant schools online or in your area and uncover the key information you need to make the right decision concerning your future career path.
How do I find dental assistant programs near me?
Check out our state by state guides for detailed information on schools, state requirements, job outlook, salaries and more:
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Calling Tomorrow’s Dental Hygienists
Looking for a career in Dental Hygiene? We now offer dedicated information for tomorrow’s dental hygienists. Get information on state requirements, salaries, job outlook and full school listings here.
Dental Assistant—Education and career path, career options and outlook
Dental assistants are members of a dental team who perform a variety of technical, inter-personal and office management-related tasks. A dental assistant career is often varied and flexible, with excellent employment prospects.
Education and Certification
Dental assisting programs are usually certificate programs that take between nine and eleven months to complete. Some locations offer accelerated programs that may be completed in an even shorter time, while other locations have online or part-time education programs to accommodate the needs of as many students as possible. There are approximately 270 programs across the country accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
Students who complete a CODA-accredited program are eligible to take the Certified Dental Assisting (CDA) examination through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Those who completed a non-accredited program or learn dental assisting through hands-on job training must have two years of full-time experience before they are eligible to take the CDA examination.
Not all states require graduation from an accredited program or national certification in order to work as a dental assistant, although some duties that dental assistants routinely perform may not be open to them without these qualifications. However, many states do require dental assistants to meet these qualifications, and others ask for state-specific registration or licensing before an individual may work as a dental assistant in that state.
There are four regulated tasks that some dental assistants perform if individual state regulations permit. These tasks are coronal polishing (removing soft tooth deposits), sealant application (painting a thin, plastic substance on teeth to help prevent cavities), fluoride application and topical anesthetic application (to numb areas for surgical procedures).
Career Options and Employers
Dental assistants are valuable team members in a variety of private dental practices, including solo dental practices, group dental practices and specialty practices such as orthodontics or pediatric dentistry. These professionals may also assist dentists in settings such as hospital wards or nursing homes.
The skills of dental assistants allow them to play an important role in the prevention of oral health problems. They may work in locations that do not offer the full scope of dental clinic services, such as schools or community health clinics. In these locations, they often focus on preventative services such as teaching about good oral health care or providing preventative materials such as fluoride.
The field of dental assisting covers a wide range of services, and different jobs may vary greatly in the duties they require. Some dental assisting involves a significant amount of front-office and interpersonal work, including managing supplies, scheduling appointments, taking medical histories and instructing patients about proper post-procedural oral care.
Dental assisting may also involve a variety of technical responsibilities. Dental assistants prepare and sterilize instruments, develop infection control protocols, take and develop dental radiographs and take impressions of teeth for models.
The variety of work offered by dental assisting is one of the features that attract many young professionals to this career. Dental assisting also frequently provides flexible hours and an abundance of part-time work (approximately one in three dental assistants worked part time in 2012).
Dental assistants who want to move beyond clinical practice may also pursue a variety of other opportunities.
Some use their experience to process dental insurance claims for insurance companies, or to become sales representatives for corporations that sell dental products or services.
Many experienced dental assistants also pursue jobs in education. Positions are available in clinical settings, where experienced assistants help new dental assistant students learn clinical procedures. Some dental assistants also take classroom teaching positions at dental schools, technical or vocational schools, community colleges or universities that offer dental assisting programs.
Independent teaching positions often require a significant amount of clinical experience, and may also require additional education in the form of an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree.
The field of dental assisting currently offers a very strong job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment for dental assistants will grow by 25 percent between 2012 and 2022. This is much higher than the rate of growth predicted for employment in all occupations, which is 11 percent.
According to the BLS, this growth will be driven by two main factors. First, research continues to demonstrate a connection between good oral health and good overall physical health, which is increasing the demand for dental services. In addition, federal legislation to increase the number of people with health and dental insurance is expected to increase the need for dental services. As dentists and sometimes dental hygienists take on more patients to accommodate this demand, it will increase the need for dental assistants to perform office management, equipment preparation and patient liaison tasks.
The median annual wage for dental assistants in 2012 was very close to the median annual wage for all occupations: $34,500 compared to $34,750. The highest-paid 10 percent of dental assistants earned more than $47,580, as much as some dental hygienists. The dental assistants in the bottom 10 percent of the income bracket earned less than $23,550. The medial annual wage for similar healthcare support occupations in 2012 was $25,550.
While dental assistants with more experience are likely to earn more money than those with less, experience is not the only variable when it comes to the annual wage of dental assistants. Since dental assisting duties can vary, wages will also vary depending on the services required by individual employers. Dental assistants who perform mostly office management and patient-contact duties are likely to earn less than dental assistants whose jobs also include a significant number of technical duties. States that permit dental assistants to perform regulated tasks such as coronal polishing or sealant application generally offer a higher earning potential than states that restrict these activities to dentists or dental hygienists.