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How to Become a Dental Assistant in Michigan

Becoming a registered dental assistant in Michigan involves multiple steps. To get started, you must enroll in an accredited post-secondary program in dental assisting.

Contrary to what you may have heard, dental assistants have numerous career opportunities to look forward to after receiving accreditation.

If you’re looking for a rewarding healthcare career that allows you to work with patients and doesn’t require four-plus years of school, consider dental assisting.

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What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

Dental assistants play an essential role in dental offices, helping the office run smoothly and safely. The exact duties of a dental assistant in Michigan vary depending on registration status and their employer.

In general, they are responsible for:

  • Getting patients checked in and settled into the exam room
  • Preparing the exam room for the hygienist or dentist
  • Cleaning and sterilizing equipment and instruments
  • Assisting the hygienist or dentist during cleanings and procedures
  • Educating patients about oral hygiene
  • Communicating with patients to make sure they understand the dentist’s instructions
  • Taking calls and scheduling patients
  • Billing and taking payments

Registered dental assistants may perform some basic procedures and process X-rays under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.

What Are the Requirements to Work as a Dental Assistant in Michigan?

Michigan allows two levels of dental assistants. The first is a basic position with no formal training requirements. You can begin working as a dental assistant without a degree.

The only training needed is learning how to operate X-ray machines if that will be a job duty.

Because they do not need credentials, a dental assistant’s duties are limited. Dental assistants can use appliances, operate X-ray equipment, make impressions, and apply topical anesthetic with general supervision.

If supervised by a licensed dentist, they can place and remove orthodontic separators and other components.

The next level up is a Registered Dental Assistant or RDA. An RDA in Michigan can perform more duties, like replacing amalgam, removing sutures, applying cavity liners, placing periodontal impressions, and assisting with and monitoring nitrous oxide analgesia.

To become an RDA, you must apply with the Michigan Board of Dentistry.

The Steps to Becoming a Registered Michigan Dental Assistant

Before applying to become an RDA, you must meet several requirements and go through these steps:

  1. Complete a degree or certificate program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) or one that meets the Michigan Board’s requirements. The program must include instruction on expanded functions for a dental assistant.
  2. Pass the Michigan Board’s comprehensive exam and clinical exam. You may also have a passing score on equivalent exams in other states.
  3. Undergo a fingerprint and criminal background check.
  4. Complete the application for an RDA license. Don’t forget to compile the necessary documentation and a $132.60 fee.

Should I Become an RDA or a Dental Assistant?

In Michigan, you have two options. You can look for a dentist willing to hire you without being registered. Or, you can go through the process of becoming an RDA.

While it may take additional time and cost more, getting the credential has several benefits:

  • Most dental offices prefer to hire an RDA over a dental assistant without an official credential.
  • You may be able to transfer your credential to another state if you move.
  • You’ll be better prepared to do the job well and work with patients with the training required to become an RDA.
  • A certificate or degree is an excellent stepping stone to becoming a dental hygienist later.
  • Salaries are generally higher for RDAs.

Accredited Dental Assisting Programs and Dental Assistant Schools in Michigan

If you plan to be registered, the first step to becoming a dental assistant is enrolling in a certificate or degree program.

Seven schools in Michigan offer a dental assistant program accredited by CODA:

Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor
  • Washtenaw Community College, Ann Arbor
  • Lake Michigan College, Benton Harbor
  • Wayne County Community College District, Detroit
  • Mott Community College, Flint
  • Grand Rapids Community College, Grand Rapids
  • Northwestern Michigan College, Traverse City
  • Delta College, University Center

No matter where you are, you can learn to be a dental assistant online. Penn Foster offers a comprehensive program with all the courses you need to get started in this career.

How Long Does it Take to Complete a Dental Assistant Program?

The duration of the program depends on a few different factors. Some schools offer a certificate for a dental assisting program, which typically takes one year to complete. Most offer an associate degree program, which takes two years to finish.

The time it takes to earn your certificate or degree also depends on personal choice. If you choose to go to school full time, expect to graduate in a year or two. If you can only attend part-time, it could take two to four years to finish.

What Will I Learn in a Dental Assistant Program?

Programs differ slightly, but those accredited by CODA follow specific guidelines and have similar course offerings. Some of the courses you can expect to take in any approved program include:

  • Oral anatomy
  • Infection control
  • Clinical dental assisting
  • Dental materials
  • Health and nutrition
  • Oral Pathology
  • Operative techniques
  • Pharmacology
  • Clinical procedures
  • Dental radiology and X-rays
  • Dental office management
  • Dental jurisprudence

Many schools also offer exam preparation courses. These will help you study and practice taking the Michigan Board of Dentistry’s exams for licensing.

You may be expected to complete an internship. If not, you will have a course in clinical practice, which will allow you to get hands-on experience working with patients.

Michigan now requires that programs include expanded functions courses. These teach you how to perform procedures considered to be extra functions of a dental assistant. Examples include applying topical anesthetic, fluoride treatments, and taking impressions.

Dental Assisting National Board

Career Options for Dental Assistants

With a certificate or degree in dental assisting, you can begin working in a dental office or similar setting. There are other options as well. With your educational background, you can take on an administrative role in a dental office. You may also be able to work in a lab or become a dental technician.

Becoming an RDA in Michigan is a great place to start if you think you might want to become a dental hygienist eventually. Dental hygienists hold four-year degrees, and these programs can be competitive. With an education and work experience in dental assisting, you’ll be a more desirable candidate. Some of your coursework may also count toward a dental hygiene degree.

Dental hygienists have more responsibilities than assistants and must be licensed in Michigan. They do cleanings for patients and perform specific procedures with minimal supervision. They also direct and work with dental assistants.

Career Growth in Dental Assisting

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for dental assistants are growing faster than average. The expected growth from 2019 to 2029 is 7% for the entire country. A likely explanation for the increasing demand for dental care is that the U.S. population is aging.

Michigan is experiencing the opposite trend. From 2018 to 2028, jobs for dental assistants are expected to drop by about 2%. This decrease, however, doesn’t mean there are no opportunities. Due to people leaving the field—because they’ve moved, retired, or changed careers—expect more than 1,000 open positions each year for the next decade.

Typical Salaries

The median annual salary for dental assistants across the U.S. is $41,180. The median hourly rate is $19.80. Most dental assistants work full time. The highest earners in the field make $58,390 and more. My employer, those who work for the government earn the most. According to the BLS, the average annual salary for dental assistants in Michigan is between $37,640 and $40,980.

Dental Assistant Jobs in Michigan

Dental assistants overwhelmingly work in dental offices, but this isn’t the only career opportunity. Licensed dental assistant As can work in other settings, such as hospitals, dental schools, public health clinics, research laboratories, and sales.

Physician offices, outpatient care centers, government agencies, hospitals, residential nursing facilities, and employment services agencies often hire dental assistants.

Here are some recent examples of job listings on Indeed.com to give you an idea of the options in Michigan:

  • Dental assistant, Michigan Mainstreet Dentistry, Ann Arbor, $24 to 26 per hour
  • Certified dental assistant, West Oaks Dental Group, West Bloomfield, $20 to $24 per hour
  • Dental/hygiene assistant, Northville Family Dentistry, Northville, $20 to $28 per hour
  • Dental assistant, Lindenwoods Dental, Kalamazoo, $30,000 to $40,000
  • Pediatric dental assistant, Petoskey Pediatric Dentistry, Petoskey, $18 per hour and up
  • Dental assistant, faculty practice, University of Detroit Mercy, Detroit, $17 per hour

Dental Assistants are well-trained, and skilled, and earn a good living with excellent job security. If you love working with people and are interested in healthcare, consider becoming a dental assistant in Michigan.


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