How to Become a Dental Assistant in Washington D.C
Working as a dental assistant in the nation’s capital will see you occupying an entry-level position in the dental industry. Still, you will have plenty of opportunities to expand your career if you take on additional training. To be successful and enjoy your job as a dental assistant, you will need to be detail-oriented, patient-focused and an excellent communicator. Many patients come to the dentist’s office feeling quite nervous. You may be their first point of contact and be responsible for setting the tone for the rest of their appointment.
For those interested in pursuing a career as a dental assistant in Washington, D.C, there are two different paths you can take. The D.C board of Washington is responsible for regulating dental assistants. This board evaluates qualifications, executes examinations and makes recommendations on standards and procedures. Some of the basic duties performed by a dental assistant include:
- Greeting and preparing patients for treatment
- Front office administrative duties, including billing and payments
- Maintain patient records and schedule appointments
- Chairside assisting during procedures
- Sterilizing and maintaining dental tools
- Educating patients on oral healthcare
- Discussing post-surgical/treatment care with patients
Beyond the fundamental duties of the job, the board has split the dental assisting position into two levels. Each level requires a different amount of training and allows for various tasks to be performed.
Level 1 – The following duties may be performed under the direct supervision of a dentist:
- Teeth whitening
- Take impressions
- Apply medical agents to teeth
- Apply topical anesthesia
- Use of a halogen lamp for curing
- Place periodontal dressings, matrices, and retraction cords
- Remove sutures and temporary restorations
- Check for loose bands
- Rinse and aspirate oral cavity
- Retract the lips, cheek, tongue, and flaps
- Construct athletic mouthguards
Level 2 – The following duties may also be performed under the direct supervision of a dentist:
- All level 1 duties
- Apply topical fluoride
- Prepare temporary crowns
- Prepare and fit stainless steel crowns
- Apply desensitizing agents
- Remove excess cement and periodontal dressings
- Place and remove rubber dams
- Fabricate indirect restorations
- Perform vitality tests
- Place and remove matrix bands
What is Required?
The D.C Board of Dentistry has determined that candidates of each level of dental assistant need to complete different training in order to register successfully.
Level 1 dental assistants must:
- Be a high school graduate or possess a GED.
- Complete a dental radiography program approved by the D.C Board of Dentistry
- Apply for registration as a Dental Assistant 1 through the D.C Board of Dentistry
Level 2 Dental assistants must:
- Complete the first two steps required of the level 1 dental assistant
- Apply for registration as a Dental Assistant 2 through the D.C Board of Dentistry
- Complete a program of study approved by the Commission on Dental Assisting (CODA) or D.C Board of Dentistry, OR be a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB)
Whether level 1 or 2, all practicing dental assistants must register with the state through the D.C Board of Dentistry. As well as submitting an application for registration, the candidate must also provide the following documentation:
- Official copy of a high-school diploma or GED
- Copy of a basic CPR/first-aid certificate
- Copy of government issue photo ID
- Two passport-sized photographs (2×2)
- Certificate of completion from a radiation course
- Certificate of completion from a dental assistant program (if applicable)
- Examination scores from DANB (if applicable)
- Character references
- Documents related to a name change (marriage certificates or divorce decrees, for example) if applicable
- $190 application and registration fee (fee payable to the D.C treasurer)
As well as the above, applicants must also complete a background check. All documents must be sent to the following address:
Department of Health
Board of Dentistry – Processing Center
Washington, D.C. 20002
Registration expires on December 31st of every odd-numbered year. All those who are currently registered will receive notice to re-register approximately three months before their expiration date. Renewal requires candidates to complete a questionnaire and submit all relevant continuing education documents.
Studying in Washington D.C
Dental assistants of either level are not required to obtain formal post-secondary training. However, choosing to complete a program of study can be highly beneficial. If the program is approved by CODA, this is especially true as this would allow someone thinking of obtaining their level 2 certification from having to seek separate approvals through the D.C Board of Dentistry. Receiving this type of training also signals to any potential employers that you are serious about working in the dental industry. It also signals to employers that you will be coming into the job with a certain amount of knowledge and hands-on training.
Although there are currently no CODA-approved dental assistant programs in D.C, there is one program in the neighboring state of Maryland and five programs available in Virginia. Those programs are as follows:
- Hagerstown Community College, Hagerstown, MD
- Centura College, Norfolk, VA
- Germanna Community College, Locust Grove, VA
- J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Richmond, VA
- Fortis College, Richmond, VA
- Northern Virginia Community College, Springfield, VA
For anyone unable to attend classes in person, Penn Foster Career School offers dental assisting programs online. This way you can study from home and at your own pace.
What is Covered and How Long Does it Take?
Dental assistant training is available in person and online, but most CODA-approved courses occur in the classroom. Another benefit of a CODA-approved program is that it always ends with clinical rotation, giving students excellent hands-on experience in the field. Courses of study can differ from school to school, but all programs overseen by CODA will cover the following topics:
- CPR and basic life-saving techniques
- Diet and nutrition
- Disease transmission and general safety
- Dental anatomy, pathology, and terminology
- Front office management, insurance, law, and ethics
- Chairside assisting
- Restorative dental procedures and orthodontics
- Pediatric dentistry
- Periodontics and endodontics
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery
Many courses of study are structured as certificate programs that take between 9 and 11 months to complete. Some programs offer more in-depth material and training presented in the form of a degree program that can take up to 2 years to complete. These programs also tend to assist those interested in becoming certified once they have completed their program.
Many dental assistants, whether level 1 or level 2, choose to become nationally certified through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Certification through DANB is an easy way for level 2 dental assistants to meet their educational requirements for registration. Level 1 and 2 assistants can get their radiography training requirements met through DANB as well.
There are four certifications available through DANB, and each includes between 2 – 4 components. Those certifications are:
- Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA)
- Certified Preventative Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)
- Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)
- Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)
The basic certification that most dental assistants choose to pursue is the certified dental assistant, which consists of three examination components:
- General Chairside Assisting (GC)
- Infectious Control (ICE)
- Radiation Health and Safety (RHS)
These three components can be completed all at once or separately as long as all three are completed within 5 years. DANB examinations are taken through Pearson VUE centers, of which there are two located in Washington D.C. Some of the components can even be taken online.
All certified dental assistants must renew their certifications on an annual basis. To be eligible for re-certification, dental assistants must complete 30 continuing education credits throughout the year. These credits occupy four areas of study. Those areas and the number of required credits are:
- DANB and other dental related exams – 12 credits
- Clinical practice – 12 credits
- Dental office management – 3 credits
- Volunteer service and scholarly activity – 3 credits
The DALE Foundation, which is an affiliate of DANB, is an excellent resource for completing the necessary credits. Re-certification applications start at $75 and go up depending on the number of certifications a person is interested in taking.
Although dental assisting is considered an entry-level position, there are opportunities to grow within the position itself. Moreover, dental assisting gives you the ability to expand your career into other areas of the dental industry based on your goals and interests. Depending on where your interests lay, the following are several career options that a dental assistant may wish to pursue:
Dental Hygienist – If you are interested in learning more advanced dental procedures and enjoy the patient-focused aspects of the industry, becoming a dental hygienist is an excellent direction to go. Dental hygienists are almost guaranteed a more stable career and higher salary. There is also the possibility that you may use some of the credits from your dental assisting certificate towards this degree.
Dental Laboratory Technician – For those more interested in the technical side of dentistry, your best bet would be to pursue a dental laboratory technician degree. This degree would allow you to work in a dental lab filling prescriptions for crowns, bridges, and other dental prosthetics. You may also be able to build your skills and expand even further into laboratory work.
Dental Office Management – If the daily goings-on of a dental office is what interests you, taking a deeper dive into the business side of the dental industry may be your best path. Consider pursuing a degree in business or office administration will help you on your path to office management while remaining a vital part of the healthcare industry.
Career Outlook and Salary Expectations
Across the nation, the outlook for dental assistants is quite positive, growing at 11 percent from 2020-2030. The areas of Washington, Arlington, and Alexandria boast the eighth-highest concentration of dental assistants at 5,410. This number is higher than the average growth of all occupations. The outlook for D.C is even higher than the national average at 12 percent, with an expected 70 new jobs every year from 2018 to 2028.
These high growth rates are thought to be a result of the aging populations requiring more substantial dental care, and this trend is not set to slow down any time soon. There has also been an overall increase in the public’s awareness of the importance of oral health, contributing to this uptick in available positions year over year.
According to the U.S bureau of labor statistics (BLS), the national average salary for dental assistants is $41,180 per year, which works out to $19.80 per hour. In Washington, D.C, the average salary is even better at $51,250 per year, amounting to $24.64 per hour. This average stretches across both levels of dental assistants. Keep in mind that level 1 assistants will not be earning relatively as high, and level 2 assistants could achieve a salary that is even higher than the median wage.
Job Opportunities in Washington D.C
With such a positive outlook for dental assistants, Washington provides many opportunities to enter the dental industry.
Indeed.ca, the large and well-known job posting site, currently shows 482 available dental assistants and related jobs in the capital.
New graduates and others seeking employment should consider looking at dentist offices, physician offices, universities, and even outpatient care centers. According to the District of Columbia Employment Services, the organizations currently offering the most dental assistant positions are the Children’s National Hospital, Unity Healthcare, and Catholic Charities DC. Check several different sites when looking for work. They may be updated at different times, and some employers may prefer specific employment sites over others.
If the idea of a position with room to grow in multiple directions, the chance to make a difference in the health of others while directly dealing with patients appeals to you, dental assisting may be the perfect fit for you. With time, dedication, and a few steps, you can be well on your way to enjoying a lucrative and exciting career option that can open many doors. For more information and networking opportunities, the following resources may be of interest:
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- Dental Schools in Washington
- Dental assistant salaries in District of Columbia
- Dental hygiene schools in District of Columbia