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How to Become a Dental Assistant in Massachusetts

If you are interested in pursuing a healthcare career in Massachusetts that doesn’t require extensive schooling, consider becoming a dental assistant.

It’s a great career choice if you’re a detail-oriented person with good organizational skills and you enjoy interacting with people. There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Still, all require registering with the Massachusetts Board of Registration and passing the Dental Assistant Ethics and Jurisprudence Exam.

Completing a program through an accredited dental assistant school will help you be well-prepared for the exam and your career as a dental assistant.

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The Role of the Dental Assistant

Dental assistants make essential contributions to any dental team. They work closely with both the patient and the dentist, and they are responsible for many different tasks, such as:

  • Preparing the work area for treatments or procedures
  • Preparing patients for treatment and making sure they’re comfortable
  • Instructing patients on oral care habits to improve their dental health
  • Sterilizing dental instruments and equipment
  • Preparing materials to make dental impressions and restorations
  • Processing dental x-rays
  • Completing lab tasks
  • Handing instruments to the dentist and holding equipment such as lights or suction hoses as needed during procedures
  • Keeping organized records of dental treatments
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Assisting with light accounting and office tasks such as billing and payments

Of course, tasks may vary from one dental office to another. Your duties may also change based on the amount of training and experience you have.

How to Become a Certified Dental Assistant in Massachusetts

There are four different tiers of dental assistants in Massachusetts.

All four levels require that you be a minimum of 18 years old and not licensed as a dental hygienist or a dentist. They also require that you hold current CPR/AED certification from the Red Cross or Basic Life Support certification from the American Heart Association.

The four levels based on the training required and the duties you’re qualified to perform are:

Dental Assistant Trained on the Job (OJT) 

This is an entry-level job in which a licensed supervising dentist can train you on the job for six months.

You’re required to complete a course in CDC guidelines in Infection Control for Dental Settings.

Formally Trained Dental Assistant (FTDA) 

To become an FTDA, complete a formal dental assistant training program. 

Certified Assistant (CA) 

You can earn dental assisting certification through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). If you hold any current national accreditation through the DANB, you’re qualified to apply to the Massachusetts Board of Registration

Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) 

To qualify as an EFDA, you need to complete a formal program in expanded functions at a CODA-accredited program and hold national certification from DANB.

For all levels, you’ll need to register with the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Dentistry. The tasks you’re qualified to perform depending on which level of dental assistance you have attained.

Steps to Applying for a Massachusetts Dental Assisting License

The steps required to apply for a Massachusetts Dental Assisting License are as follows:

  1. Gather the required documents before you apply. This includes Basic Life Support certification or CPR certification, a passport-size photo of yourself, and an answer sheet from the Ethics and Jurisprudence Exam. If you’ve completed a formal program, you’ll need to show completion of the program.
  2. Include a statement of any criminal, civil or disciplinary action against the applicant.
  3. Include a check or money order made payable to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The fee for the initial dental licensure is $60.
  4. Download the license application from the state’s government website.
  5. Mail with all attachments to The Mass. Board of Registry in Dentistry, 239 Causeway Street, Suite 500, Boston, MA 02114 or apply through the online portal.

What Will You Learn in a Formal Dental Assistant Program?

While you may find opportunities to become a dental assistant through on-the-job training, postsecondary programs offer more extensive training.

There are slightly different courses offered at various schools. Programs typically include both lecture and hands-on experience, and they’re offered at vocational schools, technical schools, and community colleges. Some of the courses that you may take include:

  • Infection control
  • Dental science
  • Dental terminology
  • Dental anatomy
  • Dental materials
  • Dental radiology
  • Oral Pathology
  • Preventive dentistry
  • Dental office management

Dental assisting programs usually last a year. Pursuing an associate’s degree in this field takes two years, and these programs are less common.

Accredited Dental Assistant Schools in Massachusetts

There are eight dental assistant programs in Massachusetts certified by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)

You don’t have to go through a program accredited by CODA, but some employers prefer it. In Massachusetts, these programs are offered at:

Massasoit Community College, Canton
  • Massasoit Community College, Canton
  • Mount Wachusett Community College, Gardner
  • Northern Essex Community College, Lawrence
  • Middlesex Community College, Lowell
  • Charles H. McCann Technical School, North Adams
  • Southeastern Technical Institute, North Easton
  • Springfield Technical Community College, Springfield
  • Quinsigamond Community College, Boylston

As an alternative to programs certified by CODA, you can complete a state-approved vocational dental assisting program or a program approved, accredited, or licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education.

Another option is to pursue dental assistant training online. Penn Foster offers a comprehensive program that can help you learn the basics. This option means you can train at your own pace from the convenience of your own home.

Dental Assisting National Board Certification

While not required in all states, the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers certification for dental assistants. To become certified, you must meet specific requirements and pass three exams:

  • The Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) Exam tests your knowledge of using dental x-ray equipment safely.
  • The Infection Control (ICE) Exam evaluates your understanding of infection control procedures in the dental office.
  • The General Chairside (GC) Exam covers chairside assisting duties such as preparing patients for treatment, taking impressions, and placing and removing rubber dams.

You can learn more about DANB certification requirements on the DANB website.

How Much Do Dental Assistants in Massachusetts Make?

Most dental assistants work full-time. The median annual wage for dental assistants in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was $41,080 as of May 2020.

If paid by the hour, this is about $19.80 per hour. This salary is higher than most other healthcare support occupations.

In the state of Massachusetts, typical wages range from $38,200 to $66,320, according to BLS. Salary.com reports an average salary of $43,437 for a Massachusetts dental assistant as of August 2021 and a salary range between $38,519 and $48,198. Salary can vary widely based on location and years of experience.

Job Outlook for Massachusetts Dental Assistants

Public awareness of the importance of good dental health continues to increase.

As the population of Massachusetts and across the country ages and people work to keep more of their teeth than previous generations, the demand for dental assistants will remain strong. Research shows a link between dental health and general health, increasing the demand for preventive dental care.

CareerOneStop projects that the employment of dental assistants across the country will grow approximately seven percent between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than average for all occupations. In Massachusetts, there are around 980 job openings in this field each year.

Potential for Further Training as a Dental Hygienist

Working as a dental assistant is a fulfilling career choice, and you make an important contribution to the dental team.

At some point, you may wish to pursue further education and a career as a dental hygienist to open the door to more challenging opportunities and higher-paying work.

If you decide to do this, you’ll need to enroll in either an associate’s degree program or a bachelor’s degree program. An associate’s degree takes two to three years to complete, and a bachelor’s degree takes four years.

Being admitted to dental hygiene programs can be competitive. The fact that you’re already trained and experienced as a dental assistant demonstrates your commitment to the field and may help you to be accepted into a program.

While there are many job openings for dental assistants and dental hygienists, you may find that the higher level of skills mastered by dental hygienists makes them in even greater demand.

Working as a Dental Assistant in Massachusetts

As a Massachusetts dental assistant, you’ll have the opportunity to use many different skills, blending administrative tasks with hands-on dental care. 

You’ll wear a surgical mask, gloves, safety glasses, and protective clothing to help prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Most dental assistants work closely with the dentist and other members of the dental team and work full-time during the day. In some settings, you may work evenings and weekends. 

Opportunities are available in the offices of dentists, orthodontists, and other specialized dental care providers. Some jobs for dental assistants are available in government settings, physician’s offices, school clinics, and private hospitals.

In Massachusetts, the highest-paid opportunities are usually in or near big cities like Boston, Worcester, and Springfield. Still, there are also plenty of options in less densely populated areas.


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