How to Become a Dental Assistant in Nebraska
Dental assistants are essential team members in any dental office. Although it is considered an entry-level position, dental assistants are often the first face a patient sees. Therefore, they are responsible for setting the tone for the patient’s visit.
First and foremost, a DA should be focused on patient care, as well they must be highly organized, detail-oriented, and an excellent communicator.
The dental industry in Nebraska is overseen by the Nebraska Board of Dentistry. The board recognizes two levels of dental assistants, basic dental assistants and dental assistants who are qualified to perform coronal polishing. As well, the board requires additional training for those who wish to perform x-rays. A basic dental assistant can expect to perform the following tasks:
- Greet and prepare patients for their appointment
- Prepare the procedure space
- Chairside assisting during procedures
- Discuss oral health with patients
- Place topical local anesthesia
- Sterilize and maintain dental tools
- Administrative duties
Restrictions: What Dental Assistants Can and Cannot do in Nebraska
The Nebraska dental act states that dental assistants may only perform duties that the supervising dentist accepts full responsibility for overseeing. Since this is a bit vague, there are several duties outlined that no level of dental assistant can perform, regardless of the level of supervision. The list of prohibited tasks is as follows:
- Scaling of teeth
- Surgery on hard or soft tissue
- Any irreversible dental procedure
- Chemical curettage
- Any intraoral procedure leading to fabricating a prosthesis
- Administering local or general anesthetics
- Placing or contouring of a final restoration
- Diagnosis and treatment planning
Qualifying to Perform Expanded Functions
There are no requirements for dental assistants to pursue expanded functions. However, doing so will increase the potential of hiring as many employers seek assistants who can perform these duties.
Dental assistants who wish to perform coronal polishing or operate radiography equipment must complete the following steps:
- Graduate from a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
- Complete a 1-year (min 1500 hours) period of relevant work experience and a Coronal Polishing Procedures program approved by the Nebraska Board of Dentistry.
- Complete a 2-day course in dental radiography approved by the Nebraska Board of Dentistry.
- Become a Certified Dental Assistant through the Dental Assisting National Board.
Dental Assistant Schools in Nebraska
Basic level dental assistants are also not required to pursue any type of formal training, but having some type of training can not only help you seem more appealing to potential employers, it can also help you to advance your career should you wish to.
Many dental assistants choose a program of study that is CODA approved, which not only starts them on the road to becoming certified it can also help them meet the requirements of both coronal polishing and radiography licensing. There are currently 4 CODA-approved programs in Nebraska.
Central Community College, Hastings
- Central Community College, Hastings, NE
- Metropolitan Community College, Omaha, NE
- Mid-Plains Community College, North Platte, NE
- Southeast Community College, Lincoln, NE
For students who cannot attend classes in person, Penn Foster Career School offers an online program that would allow you to study from home and on your own schedule making getting started more accessible than ever.
What is covered, and how long does it take?
Most formal training will take place primarily in the classroom but make sure to look for a course of study that includes hands-on work as well.
A CODA-accredited program will always contain clinical practice and sometimes even have internships that provide invaluable experience for those new to the industry.
Although courses can vary from program to program, students of a CODA-approved course can expect the following areas of study to be covered:
- Front office management, insurance, law and ethics
- Diet and nutrition
- Disease transmission and general safety
- Dental anatomy, pathology, and terminology
- CPR and basic lifesaving skills
- Chairside assisting
- Pediatric Dentistry
- Restorative dental procedures and orthodontics
- Periodontics and endodontics
- Oral and maxillofacial surgery
CODA programs take on average 9 – 11 months to complete. However, you may end up spending up to 2 years studying depending on whether you wish to obtain a degree at some point. Luckily there is much training that can be done while remaining on the job.
If you are planning to become certified, many CODA-approved programs offer assistance for those looking to sit their exams after completion. It may not be stated in the curriculum, though, so be sure to ask and get as much out of your time in training as you can.
Becoming a Certified Dental Assistant
Along with formal training, many dental assistants choose to become nationally certified. By becoming certified, you not only meet the requirement for getting your radiography license. You are also signaling to potential employers that you are invested in the dental industry. Your certification is recognized nationally should you ever wish to move and seek employment elsewhere in the country.
Candidates may qualify for certification through the following three pathways:
- Graduate from a CODA-approved program of study.
- Have graduated from High school or possess a GED and have completed 3500 hours of approved work.
- Have held a CDA certification, graduated from a CODA-accredited dentist preparation program, or received a dental degree in another country.
There are four certifications available to dental assistants through DANB.
- Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)
- Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA)
- Certified Preventative Functions Dental Assistant (DPFDA)
- Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)
The entry-level certification is the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA). Once a candidate has met one of the above requirements, they are eligible to sit the 3 part examination through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). The three components of the exam are:
- General Chairside Assisting (GC)
- Radiation Health and Safety (RHS)
- Infection Control (ICE)
Candidates have the choice to complete all three components at once or separately, as long as all three are completed within five years. Exams are taken through Pearson VUE test centers, of which there are three located in Nebraska. These centers are located in North Platte, Lincoln, and Omaha.
Certification must be renewed every two years. To be eligible for renewal, candidates must have completed at least 12 continuing dental education credits. Classes must be at least 45 minutes in length and must be relevant to dental assisting to apply. The DANB has concluded that all courses may be completed online if need be. The following is a breakdown of the required credit areas and the allowable credit amounts for each area:
- Clinical Practice – Maximum of 12 credits every two years in this category
- DANB and other dental-related certification courses – Maximum of 12 credits every 2 years in this category
- Dental Office Management – Maximum of 3 credits every two years may be in this category
- Volunteer service or scholarly activity – Maximum of 3 credits of 2 years may be in this category
All CDA’s will receive a renewal notice in the mail close to their particular renewal date. Candidates are advised that DANB regularly audits a portion of Continuing Dental Educations credits around the time of renewal, so it is best to always have your papers organized and ready for inspection. The DALE Foundation, which is an affiliate of the DANB, is an excellent resource for obtaining these credits.
Applications for recertification start at $75 and goes up depending on how many certifications you wish to renew.
For anyone who may be concerned, the state of Nebraska does not require basic level dental assistants to complete continuing education credits. However, all dental assistants are required to maintain Basic Life Support certification to practice.
Further Studies in Dental Assisting
Working as a dental assistant is considered a great jumping-off point for anyone interested in pursuing a more advanced career in the dental industry. Depending on a person’s interests, there are several different paths available to consider.
- Dental Hygienist – For those who enjoy patient care and wish to practice more advanced dental procedures, pursuing a degree as a dental hygienist may be a great choice. It’s also entirely possible that you may be able to use some of the credits from your dental assisting training towards your degree.
- Dental Laboratory Technician – If you are someone who enjoys the more technical aspects of dentistry work, you may want to consider getting a degree as a dental laboratory technician. This would see you responsible for working in a lab filling prescriptions for bridges, crowns, and other dental prosthetics.
- Dental Office Manager – For those who enjoy more of the administrative side of the industry but still enjoy working in a health care setting, you may consider getting your bachelor’s in business or office administration. This path could have you on your way to overseeing the day-to-day business of running a dental office.
Career Outlook and Salary Expectations
The job outlook for dental assistants across the nation is a bright one. According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Job growth in the industry is expected to rise by 11 percent from 2020 – 2030. In Nebraska, the outlook is even better, as the industry is expected to grow by 12 percent from 2018 – 2028. Much of this growth is thought to be a result of an aging population that needs more and more dental care as people continue to live longer than previous generations. There has also been an overall increase in education regarding the importance of health care. However, licensed dental assistant jobs are not always easy to find, but with certification, you will usually have a better chance.
The BLS notes that the average salary for dental assistants across the nation is $41,180 per year, which works out to about $19.80 per hour. In the state of Nebraska, the yearly average is a bit lower at $39,800 per year or $19.13 per hour. Keep in mind that these are just averages, and dental assistants who have obtained expanded function licenses or those that have their CDA stand to make a higher salary.
Working in Nebraska
Although salaries are a bit lower than the rest of the nation, job growth is higher, so getting into the industry should be easier. With education and training, a dental assistant in Nebraska can still expect to make a decent salary.
Urban areas are generally a better bet for new graduates, so choosing cities such as Omaha, Lincoln, and Bellevue will give those looking to get into the industry a better chance at finding employment. For those interested in working in more rural areas of the state, the BLS shows that the non-metropolitan areas of South Nebraska pay an average of $53,760 per year or $25.85 per hour.
Dental assistants should consider looking at dentist offices, physician offices, and even teaching hospitals.
For those looking for more information, networking opportunities, and possible employment, the following resources may be of assistance.
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- Dental Schools in Nebraska
- Dental Assistant Salaries in Nebraska
- Dental hygiene schools in Nebraska