How To Become a Dental Assistant in Colorado
Colorado does not license or register dental assistants. Although it is not required, completing a degree or certificate program is still the best way to start this career. Many employers prefer to hire dental assistants with a credential. A school for dental assisting will better prepare you for success in this rewarding and exciting healthcare career.
What is it Like to Be a Dental Assistant?
Dental assistants are essential members of dental teams. They contribute to patient safety and help offices and practices run smoothly. Some of the duties you may perform include:
- Getting patients checked in and settled in the exam room
- Prepare the exam room for procedures
- Clean and sterilize instruments
- Infection control procedures
- Use suction to dry patients’ mouths during cleanings or procedures
- Educating patients about oral hygiene
- Keeping and filing records of treatment
- Scheduling appointments
State law allows dental assistants to monitor nitrous oxide and work on the preliminary and final steps of taking impressions under direct supervision. With indirect supervision, they may take patient information, smooth and polish tooth surfaces, apply fluoride, and administer topical anesthetic. With proper training, you can also take X-rays.
How to Become a Colorado Dental Assistant
With no official state license to work as a dental assistant in the state, there is no single defined path to this career. However, you may want to take the following steps for the best outcome:
- Enroll in and complete a dental assistant certificate or degree program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
- Complete Basic Life Support training, which is required in Colorado for anyone working with anesthesia.
- Complete X-ray training.
These steps will provide you with all the education and training necessary to begin working in a dental office. To be more marketable to employers, you may also want to consider earning a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).
The Colorado Board of Dental Examiners does not recognize the title of Expanded Duties Dental Assistant (EDDA) and does not qualify professionals to perform such duties.
Requirements for Taking X-Rays as a Dental Assistant
To operate X-ray equipment in the state, you must be at least 18 years old and have appropriate training. You have three options:
- Complete 3.5 hours of classroom training from an accredited program and five hours of clinical experience.
- Receive on-the-job training from a licensed dentist or hygienist.
- Pass the DANB Radiation Health and Safety exam or CDA exam.
Accredited Programs in Colorado
A good first step to working in this profession is to complete an educational program. You do not need to go through a CODA-accredited program, but some employers may prefer it. There are three in Colorado:
- Pickens Technical College, Aurora. Full-time students may obtain their certificate in 3 semesters, while part-time students can achieve it in 5 semesters.
- Pikes Peak Community College, Colorado Springs. Offers both a Certificate and an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Dental Assisting. Students must be at least 18 years of age to enroll in the dental radiology courses at PPCC. There are no academic prerequisites for the certificate program. To apply for the AAS program, you must first be a graduate of an ADA-accredited certificate program. If you are not a graduate of a CODA-accredited g program, but wish to develop skills as an expanded-functions dental assistant (EFDA), you must either be a CDA or have at least two years of full-time experience as a chairside dental assistant.
- Front Range Community College, Fort Collins. The certificate program is offered at its Larimer Campus, five miles due south of the city. The program includes clinical experiences at sites in northern Colorado.
Other Training Options
Penn Foster offers an affordable and comprehensive online course if you cannot find a program near you.
The American School of Dental Assisting, while not recognized by the US Department of Education, is approved by the Colorado Department of Education’s Division of Private Occupational Schools. It offers 11 Saturdays of hands-on training at its locations in Denver, Fort Collins, Cheyenne and Colorado Springs.
Similarly, Colorado Dental Assisting School offers a 10-week program in Denver, Colorado Springs and Castle Rock. Also, The National School of Dental Assisting, also known as Colorado School of Dental Assisting, offers a 12-week program with hands-on training at locations in Broomfield, South Denver, Pueblo and Fort Collins, as well as locations in Nevada, Texas and Washington State. Finally, Premier School of Dental Assisting in southeast Denver offers a 13-week program, with 78 hours of lecture and lab, plus a 50-hour dental assistant internship with a practicing dentist. None of these schools offers a ADA, CODA-accredited program.
How Long Does it Take to Complete a Dental Assistant Program?
It depends on the program, the credential, and whether you take classes part-time or full-time. Associate degree programs take two years to complete on a full-time basis. Most certificate programs take one year or less. Programs with internships may take a little longer.
Some schools, such as Pickens Tech, also offer an expanded functions program. This program is an additional course that you can take to perform more duties on the job. It should take one semester or less to complete.
College Admissions Procedures
To apply for a program, first request information from the colleges that best interest you. The schools will provide you with the course curriculum, course requirements including prerequisite courses, and information on tuition fees and other costs. They should also inform you of available financial aid and any scholarships for which you may be eligible. With this data you will be able to compare the relative advantages of each college.
Once you have decided which college or colleges best suit you, call the admissions department to arrange a visit to the campus to see the facilities for yourself. Make sure you get all necessary application forms and find out the upcoming application deadline. Be prepared to provide transcripts of your previous education as proof of completion of any prerequisite modules.
Why Should I Go to School for Dental Assisting?
While the state does not require dental assistants to complete an academic program, there are many good reasons to do it regardless. The first is that you will have more job opportunities. Some employers will only hire those who have some formal training and education.
Even if you can get a job without that degree, you will have to do on-the-job training, which may not pay very well. A degree or certificate program will prepare you to begin working immediately at a full salary in a dental office, physician’s office, hospital, or government or community agency.
Coursework also sets up the student to advance your career. Many schools have programs that help you move from being a dental assistant to becoming a licensed dental hygienist. The process is generally more straightforward and faster if you have assisting coursework under your belt.
Career Growth in Dental Assisting
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports strong job growth for dental assisting jobs. The growth is expected to accelerate in the next decade. Expect to see 7% more positions throughout the country between 2019 and 2029.
Colorado does not report on dental assisting as a job, but it does show that as a group, healthcare support careers are on the rise in the state. The growth is expected to be nearly 3% per year from 2020 to 2030. This amounts to more than 15,000 job openings every year, some of which will be for dental assistants.
Typical Salaries for Dental Assistants
Across the country, the median annual salary for dental assistants is $41,180. The median hourly rate is $19.80. The top 90% of earners in the field make $58,390 per year and more. Dental assistants working for the government earn the most.
The BLS reports that average annual salaries for Colorado dental assistants are between $40,990 and $44,690, so rates are competitive here.
Opportunities for Dental Assistants in Colorado
Most dental assistants work in dental offices, but don’t limit your job search. Government agencies, hospitals, physician offices, outpatient medical centers, nursing homes, and other employers may hire dental assistants.
Look for the most opportunities in areas of the state with higher population density, like Denver and its suburbs. Colorado Springs is also a hot spot. The BLS shows that the Colorado Springs metropolitan area has a very high density of dental assistants.
The path to becoming a Colorado dental assistant is not set in stone. If you’re interested in healthcare and working with people but don’t want to go to school for four years or more, this could be the career for you. A program that takes two years or less is all you need to give you the skills to get started.
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