Working as a dental assistant offers many benefits and few downfalls. For starters, the career is available straight out of high school. Many of today’s best dental assistants started out as a receptionist in a dental office and worked their way up. Laws in many states, including California, require a person to have worked as an assistant for three years. After this, the dental assistant is able to go for certification, regardless if the dental assistant completed a college or vocational program.
Dental assistants work in tightly knit offices where the co-workers become friends. Statistics show that most dentists hire two or three dental assistants to help run his or her office. The co-workers spend long hours together and often form a tight family unit. For this reason, dental assistants often love going to work. This is a rare quality in any job!
To gain the highest income and start higher up the career ladder, an education in dental assisting is highly suggested. You might be surprised at how easy it is to achieve an education right within your community.
Many high schools throughout the United States offer high school level vocational programs for dental assisting. These programs are completed in a student’s junior and/or senior year of high school. The vocational programs do not always require a hefty tuition fee, which makes them perfect means to launching a satisfying career straight out of high school. High school level programs for dental assisting are rare in California, however. You will have to attend schooling in a college or secondary school setting.
The majority of postgraduate programs that specialize in dental assisting require the following:
- A high school diploma or G.E.D. with a 2.0 grade point average
- Successful completion of a CPR/First Aid course
- Two sets of all high school transcripts
- Completion of all questions on the applications
- Successful completion of a health exam including require immunizations, negative test for tuberculosis, and a clean chest x-ray
To complete a dental assisting course, you must maintain a C average or better in every course. Fingerprinting is also required for a background check. Transportation and housing while in school are up to the student not the school. Finally, you must pay for your uniform and all necessary books. Tuition rates never cover the cost of books.
Many programs require the successful completion of more than thirty credit hours. These courses include:
- Chair Side Techniques-you will learn how to work closely and follow a dentist’s instructions while monitoring a patient during any dental procedure.
- Dental Assistant Lab-in this course, usually held towards the end of your schooling, you practice your skills on volunteers.
- Dental Assistant Techniques-learn how to quickly find and hand dentists the proper tool during dental procedures. Focus is on tray set-up, clean-up, four-handed techniques, and routine procedures.
- Dental Materials-Students learn the different names for all of the dental tools, how those tools are used, and how to sterilize them according to state law.
- Dental Office Computer Applications-during this course, a student will learn how to work on DENTRIX software.
- Facial Structure-this course covers the anatomy of the face and neck. The teeth and jaw are studied in detail.
- Medical Terminology-prefixes and suffixes that are commonly used in all medical professions are taught. You will also learn common and some uncommon words used in a dental setting.
- Office Administration-Learn how to greet patients, handle patient questions, respectfully handle complaints, patient record filing, insurance procedures, and ethics.
- Oral Radiology-Students learn how to take oral x-rays. Safety precautions and infection control are taught.
- Orientation to the Dental Assisting Program-this course usually requires a six-hour lecture that covers everything one will learn regarding dental assisting. Because the students practice techniques on each other, it is essential to pass a health exam.
The program for dental assisting usually requires ten months to a year to complete. If you want an associate’s degree, you will need to complete a full two-year’s worth of education. Your graduation is complete after you have spent at least six hours interning in a dental office setting. You will find that many courses involve spending hours listening to dentists lecture prospective dental assistants on what to expect during their career and current laws. Lectures may seem dull, but it is critical to pay attention. The test for licensing covers these aspects in depth.
Once you have your degree or certificate, you can attempt to become a licensed dental assistant. While this is not a requirement by California law, gaining a dental assistant license guarantees you a higher rate of pay and draws attention. Licensed dental assistants have proven their discretion and thorough knowledge of disease control. This makes them far more valuable to any employer.
View a list of schools offering dental assisting programs in California.