There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states and provinces require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and possibly pass a state exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements. Most states regulate what dental assistants may do, but that varies. Accredited programs include classroom and laboratory work in which students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. These programs also include supervised, practical experience. On-the-job training often is required regardless of what educational path a dental assistant takes.
Dentists have their own ways of doing things, and their assistants may need time to become comfortable working with them. Dental assistants who do not get formal education learn their duties through on-the-job training. The dentist or other dental assistants in the office teach the new assistant dental terminology, the names of the instruments, how to do daily tasks, how to interact with patients, and other activities necessary to help keep the dental office running smoothly. Although some job duties are easy to learn, others may take a few months before new dental assistants are knowledgeable about and comfortable doing all their tasks without help.
Dental assistants must follow specific rules and protocols to help dentists treat a patient. Dental assistants must work closely with dentists and patients. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain or mental stress, and the assistant must be sensitive to their emotions. Dental assistants must have good listening skills. They need to follow directions from a dentist or dental hygienist so they can help treat patients and do tasks such as taking an x-ray. Dental assistants must have excellent organizational skills. They should have the correct tools in place for a dentist or dental hygienist to use when treating a patient.
The most common degree held by dental assistants is Biology. 4 percent of dental assistants had a degree in biology before becoming dental assistants. That is over 2 times the average across all careers. Business graduates are the second most common among dental assistants, representing 2 percent of dental assistants in the Sokanu user base, which is 1.2 times the average.
This table shows which degrees people earn before becoming a Dental Assistant, compared to how often those degrees are obtained by people who earn at least one post secondary degree.
|Degree||% of dental assistants||% of population||Multiple|
|High school diploma||9%|
It takes a relatively short period of time to become a dental assistant. Dental assistants receive their formal education through academic programs at community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, universities or dental schools.
There are three options - a one-year certificate or diploma training program, or a two-year associate's degree in community or technical college, (after graduating high school), or via on-the-job training.