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 19 percent by 2026.
If you are interested in a dental assisting career, you might want to know how long it takes to become a dental assistant. The time span can vary widely, depending on factors like education or location. 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.
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 a few months to two years, 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 coursework 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 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, as they perform laboratory work and sit in classroom lectures. 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. Delta Tech’s dental assistant training program may be finished in 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 entails 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.
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 full list of requirements.
Delta Tech 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.
Start Working as a Dental Assistant
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. You may learn more about a dental assisting career in our guide “How to Become a Dental Assistant”.
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