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What are the skills for a dental assistant?

Donald Ward

in Higher Education

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Karen Wright on April 29, 2018

The following is written by and according to the Department of Labor and particular to the education and training required for dental assistants.

The education and training. In most States, there is no formal education or training requirements to become a dental assistant. High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, health, and office practices. For those who wish to continue their education, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) approved 281 dental-assisting training programs in 2009. The programs include classroom, laboratory, and preclinical instruction in dental-assisting skills and related theory. Most programs take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Two-year programs offered in community and junior colleges lead to an associate degree. All programs require a high school diploma or its equivalent, and some require science or computer-related courses for admission. A number of private vocational schools offer 4-to 6-month courses in dental assisting, but the Commission on Dental Accreditation does not accredit these programs.

A large number of dental assistants learn through on-the-job training. In these situations, the employing dentist or other dental assistants in the dental office teach the new assistant dental terminology, the names of the instruments, how to accomplish everyday tasks, how to interact with patients, and other necessary things to help keep the dental office running smoothly. While some things can be picked up easily, it may be a few months before new dental assistants are completely knowledgeable about their duties and comfortable doing all their tasks without help.

A period of training for the job is often necessary, even for those who have completed a dental-assisting program or have some previous experience. Different dentists may have their own styles of doing things that need to be learned before an assistant can be comfortable working with them. Office-specific information, such as where files and instruments are kept, will need to be learned at each new job. In addition, as dental technology changes, dental assistants need to stay familiar with the instruments and the procedures that are going to be using or helping dentists to use. On the job training may be enough to keep attendees up to date on these matters.

Licensing and certification. Most States regulate the duties that dental assistants can perform. Some States require licensing or registration to perform expanded functions or to perform radiological procedures at a dentist's office. The license may include attending an accredited dental assistant program and pass a written or practical examination. Many States also require continuing education to maintain the license or registration. However, some States allow dental assistants to perform any function delegated by the dentist. Since requirements vary widely by State, it is recommended to contact the State board directly for specific requirements.

The Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential, administered by the Dental assisting National Board (DANB), is recognized or required in more than 37 States toward meeting various requirements. Candidates may qualify to take the DANB certification examination by graduating from a CODA-accredited dental assisting education program or by having 2 years full time or 4 years part-time experience as a dental assistant. In addition, applicants must have certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. For annual recertification, individuals must earn continuing education credits. Other organizations offer registration, most often at the State level.

Individual States have also adopted different standards for dental assistants who perform certain advanced functions. In some States, dental assistants who perform radiological procedures must complete additional training distinct from that required to perform other expanded functions. The completion of the Radiation Health and Safety examination or the Certified Dental Assistant examination offered by the Dental assisting National Board (DANB) meets the standards in 30 States and the District of Columbia. Some States require the conclusion of a State-approved course in radiology as well. Twelve States have no formal requirements to perform radiological procedures.


For the source and more detailed information concerning your request, click on the related links section (u.s. Department of Labor) indicated directly below this answer section.


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