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Training options for Dental Assistants in New Mexico

If you’re looking for an exciting career in healthcare but don’t want to spend four years getting a degree, consider becoming a dental assistant. With two years of school, or even less, you can begin working in this career, making a real difference in patients’ lives.

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A dental assistant schedules patients, prepares them for exams and procedures, sterilizes equipment, and assists dentists during procedures. With appropriate qualifications and certifications, they can also perform more advanced functions, like coronal polishing. In New Mexico, you can start as an entry-level dental assistant and work toward these extra duties through coursework and certification.

What Are the Types of Dental Assistants in New Mexico?

New Mexico recognizes a few levels of dental assisting based on education and allowed duties:

  1. Dental Assistant. This entry-level position requires no licensing or formal education. Dental assistants can perform basic functions under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.
  2. Dental Assistant with state certification in expanded functions. To perform certain expanded functions, such as coronal polishing, a dental assistant must take specific courses, pass an exam, and register with the New Mexico Board of Dental Health Care (NMBDHC).
  3. Expanded Function Dental Auxiliary (EFDA). With more experience and training, a dental assistant can register as an EFDA and perform a variety of more advanced functions in a dental office.

How to Become a Dental Assistant with Expanded Functions

New Mexico certifies dental assistants in two separate areas of expanded functions: coronal polishing with the application of topical fluoride and pit and fissure sealants. The requirements for coronal polishing and topical fluoride include:

  • Completing skill-specific training and observing or assisting in at least five of each type of procedure
  • Passing the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) exam in coronal polish and topical fluoride
  • Applying with the Board for certification
  • Passing the state jurisprudence exam
  • Completing five procedures of each type under observation

To become certified in pit and fissure sealants, you must:

  • Complete 2,800 hours of dental assistant work experience
  • Train in the procedures, including observing or assisting in at least 12
  • Pass the DANB sealant exam
  • Apply for certification with the Board
  • Pass the jurisprudence exam
  • Apply sealants five times under observation

How to Become an Expanded Function Dental Auxiliary

As an EFDA, you can perform these extra duties as well as others, including performing preliminary fittings, taking impressions, and performing some temporary emergency procedures. The requirements for becoming a certified EFDA include:

  • An EFDA course approved by the Board or accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) or five years of experience as a dental assistant or dental hygienist with appropriate coursework
  • State certification in coronal polishing and topical fluoride, sealants and radiography
  • A passing score on an EFDA exam
  • A passing score on the state jurisprudence exam
  • Completion of an apprenticeship within 180 days of application for EFDA certification

Accredited Dental Assistant Programs in New Mexico

New Mexico requires specific courses for earning individual certifications. These CODA-accredited programs prepare you for the most expanded functions:

  • Central New Mexico Community College, Albuquerque
  • University of New Mexico, Gallup
  • New Mexico State University – Dona Ana Community College, Las Cruces
  • Luna Community College, Las Vegas
  • Santa Fe Community College, Santa Fe

If you can’t attend an in-person program, consider starting your career with an online dental assistant course, like the one offered by Penn Foster.  

How Long Do I Need to Become a Dental Assistant?

The time it takes to begin working as a dental assistant depends on which path you take to this career. If you begin as an entry-level dental assistant, you can start working right away. Just keep in mind that you will train on the job and may earn less starting out this way.

If you choose to complete a dental assistant school first, it will probably take you a year to be ready to work. Most programs are for certificates or diplomas rather than degrees and require a year of full-time coursework.

While skipping school will allow you to begin working sooner, earning a credential provides more work opportunities and makes it easier to get certified in expanded functions. With certifications, you can earn more. You also may be able to apply courses to a degree program in dental hygiene if you want to advance your career later.

Career Outlook for Dental Assisting

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs for dental assistants will grow by 11% between 2020 and 2030. This is impressive growth that is faster than average job growth and amounts to more than 40,000 positions available per year throughout the country.

Growth is also significant in New Mexico. According to Projections Central, New Mexico expects an 8.6 percent growth in dental assistant careers from 2018 to 2028. This equates to 330 annual openings on average.

Typical Salaries for Dental Assistants

Across the U.S., the median annual salary for dental assistants is $41,180, and the median hourly rate is $19.80. The top earners in the field make more than $58,000 per year. The BLS reports an average salary range for dental assistants in New Mexico of $19,370 to $37,410. You can earn more with certifications and years of experience.  

Jobs for Dental Assistants in New Mexico

With so much growth in the industry, you should have no problem finding a job as a dental assistant. This is especially true if you earn some credentials first. Dental assistants mostly work in private dental practices and consider other employers: hospitals, nursing homes, doctor offices, community clinics, dental labs, and university dental schools.

Most dentists need dental assistants, so you can find work throughout the state, even in rural areas. The greatest number of jobs, however, and those that likely pay more, are in the major population centers: Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Roswell, and Farmington.

Working as a dental assistant is great for anyone who enjoys helping people and being part of the exciting, fast-paced world of patient care. In New Mexico, you can get started right away or earn your credentials first.


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