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How to Become a Dental Assistant

Dental assisting is a field that doesn’t necessarily require a lot of education; still, your level of education and certification may determine your opportunities. These 7 steps are designed for the high school student as well as the high school graduate exploring which steps they need to take to enter the Dental Assisting field.

Career Plan Steps:

  1. Take science classes while in high school as your electives. Take biology, chemistry, and health. Also take a vocational course in office practices. Participate in job shadowing and career fairs. Your resources may include your local AHEC center as well as your guidance counselor. Get your CPR certification.

  2. Volunteer at a local dentist office to learn more about the work environment as well as gain valuable work experience for your resume and college application.

  3. Check on the licensing/ registration requirements of your state. There may be specific educational requirements. (Requirements vary from municipality to municipality.)

    Consider enrolling in a formal education program that has been approved by the Commission on Dental Education, even if your state doesn’t require you to do so. It will teach you the skills you need on the job. In most cases, it is part of the process of becoming certified. It may help you expand your duties -- and earn higher pay.

  4. Graduate High School with a diploma or its equivalent. Employers throughout the country are now quite insistent on their Dental Assistants holding one of these credentials.

  5. Choose a school that has been accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the US Department of Education. This information will be listed on the school’s website and if it is not or they won’t tell you about it, choose another school.

  6. Choose a certificate program for the quickest entry to the field. An associate’s degree in Dental Assisting will take 1.5 to 2 years, however, the credits you earn may count toward higher education. Make sure the credits from the associate’s degree program will transfer by contacting the admissions department of a four-year college or university that you may consider attending later on if this is the educational path you think you may take.

  7. Pursue certification by the Dental Assisting National Board if it is applicable to your state. (It is in most states.) Complete other state-specific requirements registration or licensing requirements.

    Also consider professional memberships, for example, the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA).

  8. It’s time for that first position! Professional organizations are a resource; so are contacts you made while completing your externships. DentalWorker.com is a job board for dental assistants and other dental workers; you will find a link or search portal on various other sites like ADAA. The NSW Dental Assistants Association also has a forum where you can seek career advice. Utilize job boards, your school’s career center and acquaintances you have met in school or in your community to find a job. Completion of an education program in Dental Assisting will not guarantee a position in any dental office.

Personality Traits:

Remember the report card comment “works well with others”? According to an educational site managed by ADEA, that’s exactly the quality you need to be a good dental assistant. Other traits are dependability and the ability to do detailed work with your hands.

  • Strong work ethic
  • Attention to detail
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Strong time management ability
  • Able to work under pressure
  • Compassionate