Dental Assistant Career Information
A dental assistant is a professional who supports the operations of a dental office by performing administrative and clinical duties, such as scheduling appointments, preparing patients, sterilizing instruments, or taking x-rays. The career outlook for dental assistants is positive, with a projected employment growth of 7% from 2019 to 2029 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you are interested in a dental assisting career, a post-secondary training program can take anywhere from 9 to 11 months to complete, depending on which educational path you choose. For a more detailed explanation of the educational requirements, let’s take a closer look below.
How Long Does It Take to Be a Dental Assistant?
There are several educational paths for aspiring dental assistants. Educational requirements can differ from state to state, with some states demanding assistants to have graduated from an accredited dental assistant program and passed an exam, and others not having any formal educational requirements at all.
Typically, the educational minimum prerequisite for dental assistants is a high school degree or equivalent. Some dental assistants may pursue a dental assisting career through on-the-job training or postsecondary education. Dental assistants may also acquire certifications to improve their job prospects.
Dental Assistant Education Requirements
Typically, the educational requirements for dental assistants begins with earning one’s high school diploma or GED and ends with a form of professional certification.
Take a closer look at the major educational milestones for dental assistants below.
Finishing high school takes four years while completing a GED certificate takes about three months. High school students interested in a dental assisting career might want to consider taking classes in biology, chemistry, and anatomy.
Some choose to learn the job of a dental assistant by training on the job. Under the guidance of an experienced dental assistant, dental hygienist or dentist, these trainees learn dental terminology, names of instruments, daily tasks, scheduling appointments, filing patient records, interacting with patients, and other typical dental office activities. How long it takes to complete such on-the-job training depends on the dental office.
Most students choose to enroll in a dental assistant training program at a postsecondary institution, such as vocational school or a community college. These training programs normally take anywhere from 9 to 11 months, depending on whether you obtain a certificate, diploma, or associate degree. The curriculum consists of both classroom lectures and hands-on training in a clinical setting. The dental assisting education entails classes on oral anatomy, dental office administration, dental materials, and dental radiography. Unlike vocational training programs, community college programs also include general education classes like English or Math.
For example, Delta Technical College (DTC) offers a Dental Assisting Program that provides students entry-level theory and hands-on training in both basic and routine clinical and office tasks. This program equips the dental assistant student with the skills required to perform in a clinical, laboratory or office setting.
Certification and licensing requirements can differ from state to state. Some states require dental assistants to be certified, so it is important for dental assistants to check with the dental board of the state in which they wish to work. If certification is needed, it is typically a Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) certification. How much time it takes to become certified is contingent upon the type of certification you seek. While some certifications can be obtained as a student or recent graduate of a dental assisting program, others require a minimum amount of relevant work experience.
How Long is Dental Assistant School?
Going to school for dental assisting is a popular choice for those who want to enter this field. Postsecondary allied health training programs allow students to learn about the job of a dental assistant in depth. Delta Technical College (DTC) students receive hands-on training that includes performing hands-on laboratory work and the application of dental assistant skills across a wide range of settings. Yet, dental assisting programs vary in length, depending on whether you attend a vocational school or community college.
Vocational dental assisting programs can usually be completed in less than a year. The Delta Technical College (DTC) dental assistant program is nine months. The program includes classes on infection control, restorative dentistry, preventative dentistry, dental radiology, dental office administration, dental specialties, and prosthodontics. Delta Tech’s dental assisting program also covers employment preparation and includes an externship. Students graduate with a diploma.
Dental assisting programs at community colleges typically last about two years. Students not only take numerous dental assisting classes, but they also have to enroll in general education courses. Some community college students may take longer than two years, depending on their individual schedule and progress. Community colleges offer varying academic degrees. Depending on the student’s course of study and the individual school’s offerings, upon graduation a student could earn an associate’s degree, diploma, certificate or even a bachelor’s degree.
How Do I Get Certified as a Dental Assistant?
Dental assistants undertake a variety of job duties, although the scope of their responsibilities may differ depending on the dental office or the state in which they work. The DANB offers five different certifications for dental assistants. Industry bodies like the American Dental Association or American Medical Technologists also provide credentials for dental assistants.
How to be a Dental Assistant in Mississippi
In Mississippi, dental assistants must meet a number of state-specific requirements if they seek to operate dental x-ray equipment. They must hold a DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification or successfully complete a Mississippi Board-approved radiology seminar and exam within 90 days prior to application. See danb.org for the full list of requirements.
Delta Technical College (DTC) students at the Ridgeland, MS campus will sit for the DANB Radiology Health & Safety (RHS) and the Infection Control Exam (ICE), which are two of the three tests that are required for a dental assistant certification. Delta Tech also offers a Dental Radiology Seminar to provide students with the fundamental principles of dental radiology and provide students dental x-ray certification. Learn more about dental assistant certification in our “How to become a dental assistant” guide.
Some certifications, especially those for advanced duties or positions, have minimum work experience requirements. Hence, it can take a few years until dental assistants qualify for these particular certifications. Other credentials solely have educational requirements and may be obtained while enrolled in a dental assisting program or shortly after graduation.
Is Schooling for Dental Assistants Right for You?
Attending a vocational school such as Delta Technical College (DTC) can help you become a dental assistant. If you are thinking about enrolling in dental assistant schooling, here are some important considerations to inform your decision:
- Working with people – Are you a ‘people person’ who enjoys helping others? A career in dental assisting will put you on the frontlines of allied health, interfacing with patients and dentists on a routine basis. In addition to helping dental practices operate efficiently, skilled dental assistants help patients feel welcome and comfortable.
- Interest in allied health – Have you always wanted to work in allied health? Some studies suggest there is a link between oral health and overall health—by serving in the key role of a professional dental assistant, you can help a wide range of people better manage their overall health.
- Investing in education – Attending Delta Technical College (DTC) for your dental assistant schooling may save you time and money. Academic scholarships can potentially help you reduce or subsidize the cost of your educational investment. Additionally, the Financial Aid Team at DTC meets with each student individually to assist in identifying potential scholarship and financial aid opportunities. For more information, please visit our tuition and costs
*Scholarships and financial aid available to those who qualify.
Dental Assistant Requirements for Employment
How much time it takes to become a dental assistant depends on many different factors. For many, the fastest route is to enroll in a vocational school program after finishing high school or getting a GED certificate. A diploma from a vocational dental assisting program could allow you to enter the workforce in less than a year. Learn more about a dental assisting career in our guide “How to Become a Dental Assistant”.
Are you ready to begin the path to an exciting and rewarding new career in as little as 9 months? With hands-on dental assistant schooling from Delta Technical College (DTC), you’ll gain the knowledge and skills valued by today’s employers.
Fill out the form below to learn more about DTC’s Dental Assisting Program.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Dental Assisting National Board, Inc.: https://www.danb.org/Become-Certified.aspx, https://www.danb.org/Become-Certified/Exams-and-Certifications.aspx
American Medical Technologists: https://www.americanmedtech.org/
Dental Assisting National Board, Inc.: https://www.danb.org/Meet-State-Requirements/State-Specific-Information/Mississippi.aspx