Certificate in Dental Assistance Program Guide

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September 23, 2021

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Students who complete a certificate in dental assistance are prepared for immediate employment. A certificate meets the minimum education requirements for dental assisting jobs and can also lay the foundation for an advanced career in dentistry. Aspiring dentists and dental hygienists, for example, may go on to earn a bachelor's degree.

As research continues to emphasize the connection between general and dental health, the demand for qualified dentists and dental assistants to provide preventive services also increases. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 7% job growth for dental assistants between 2019 and 2029.

Read on to learn how to become a dental assistant.

Should I Get a Certificate in Dental Assistance?

Graduates with a certificate in dental assistance can pursue immediate employment or go on to earn a higher degree.

The entry-level education requirements for dental assistants vary by state. Some states require candidates to hold an undergraduate certificate or associate degree and pass an exam to enter the field, while other states do not maintain any formal education requirements. Students should pursue only certificates or degrees accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

Most certificate programs take roughly one year to complete. In addition to offering accelerated schedules, many online certificates in dental assistance offer flat or discounted tuition rates. The curriculum covers dental anatomy, terminology, and technology. Most programs include a supervised field experience.

Graduates with a certificate in dental assistance can pursue immediate employment or go on to earn a higher degree. Many students complete a certificate to gain practical experience before earning an undergraduate degree in dental hygiene or radiology technology. Others may take the first step toward their own career as a dentist by pursuing a bachelor's degree in a field like biology.

Check out the Best Online Certificate in Dental Assistance Programs

What Will I Learn in a Dental Assistance Certificate Program?

Many schools offer CODA-accredited dental assistance programs, designed to prepare graduates for immediate employment in a dental practice. Certificate programs typically include campus-based or online classes, labs, and field experience. Certificates are most common among two-year community colleges and vocational schools.

The curriculum includes courses completed on campus or online, labs, and field experience. Coursework prepares students to perform both clinical and administrative tasks, introducing critical subjects, such as dental equipment and materials, the dental examination process, front office procedures, and HIPAA regulations.

Certificates in dental assisting also include a comprehensive practicum. Some states require dental assistants to hold additional certifications to perform tasks involving radiography or infectious diseases. Certificates may prepare students to become national entry-level dental assistants, certified dental assistants, or registered dental assistants, for example.

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How to Get Into a Dental Assistance Certificate Program

Dental assistance certificate programs often admit recent high school graduates. Aspiring dental assistants applying to a certificate program typically need a high school or GED diploma and ACT, SAT, or college placement test scores. Most schools prefer applicants with a minimum 2.5 GPA.

Schools typically charge a fee of around $50 to apply, though many certificate programs automatically waive this fee. Some programs offer limited enrollment. Depending on whether a student takes classes on campus or online and state regulations, programs may require additional qualifications, such as CPR certification or current vaccines.

What Can I Do With a Certificate in Dental Assistance?

A certificate in dental assistance is usually sufficient for entry-level jobs. Unlike candidates without a certificate who require a period of on-the-job training, certificate-holders can begin working as dental assistants immediately. Dental assistants may take patient histories, prepare a dentist's work space and equipment, and process X-rays.

Students equipped with a certificate in dental assistance can also become dental laboratory technicians. While this certificate qualifies students to perform clinical tasks alongside dentists, some jobs require a more administrative role. Aspiring dental office managers may choose to eventually pursue a degree in healthcare management.

Graduates with a certificate in dental assistance can advance in the field with a bachelor's degree. Students may pursue a career as a dental hygienist with an associate or bachelor's degree or become a dental lab technician through a bachelor's program.

Aspiring dentists can earn a bachelor's degree in a field like biology while on the path toward earning a doctorate and licensure to practice in their state.

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How Much Money Can I Make With a Certificate in Dental Assistance?

Dental assistants enjoy positive job growth and a favorable starting salary. According to the BLS dental assistants earn a median annual wage of $40,080. Graduates with a dental assisting certificate who go on to earn an associate or bachelor's degree can earn a median annual salary of more than $76,000 as dental hygienists.

Frequently Asked Questions About Certificate in Dental Assistance Programs

What do dental assistants do?

Dental assistants provide clinical and administrative support to dentists. They often perform tasks, such as taking patient histories, scheduling appointments, and assisting with routine exams and cleanings. Dental assistant responsibilities vary by state.

How much does a dental assistance certificate cost?

The cost of completing a dental assistance certificate varies by school and state; however, online certificates in dental assistance may offer faster paths to graduation and more affordable tuition rates.

How long does it take to get a certificate in dental assistance?

While the length of a certificate in dental assistance may vary, most programs take roughly one year to complete. Students may need more time to meet basic college prerequisites or field experience requirements.

Is a dental assistance certificate worth it?

Yes. Dental assistants can launch their career by earning a certificate. Many students complete a certificate as the first step toward pursuing a higher degree for career advancement.

Can you get a dental assistant job without experience?

While some employers allow new hires to learn through on-the-job training, dentists prefer candidates with experience. Most certificates in dental assistance include a practicum to prepare graduates for immediate employment as dental assistants.

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