Employment opportunities as a dental assistant have been steadily growing since the beginning of the decade at a rate of approximately 35% due to the aging population and advancements in dental technology which enable older individuals to retain all or most of their original teeth. A greater awareness of dental hygiene and its significance towards overall health has caused more people than ever to visit a dentist at least once year for cleaning and check-ups. Because of this increasing interest in dental hygiene, dentists are expected to continue hiring extra assistants who are able to do routine duties such as cleaning or taking x-rays, so they are free to do more complicated procedures which a dental assistant cannot do.
If you want to work as a dental assistant, you will have to enroll in a training program at a community college or vocation school where you will be taught how to prepare a patient for dental procedures, sterilize and lay out the instruments which the dentist plans on using, keep and update dental records, and assist the dentist while he is working on a patient. You will also learn about postoperative care and general dental terminology. Programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation which deliver a certificate upon completion usually take one year to complete; associate's degrees are given to those completing a two year program. Many dental assistants enrolled in a program will have the opportunity to learn by on the job training with an actual dentist or experienced dental assistants in a real office.
Although you will have a certification or degree after successfully passing your program requirements, states have different guidelines regarding what duties a dental assistant are allowed to perform. A license may be required which entails continuing education on the part of the dental assistant in the form of additional coursework at a university. There are several states, however, which permit dentists to have the final say over what the dental assistant may or may not do, such as applying fluoride to teeth or removing stitches.
The Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) diploma is given by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) and is necessitated by thirty-seven states. In order to take the DANB test a student will have to successfully complete a CODA-accredited dental assisting program. As an alternative to this, an individual could choose to have two years of full-time or four years of part-time working experience as a dental assistant instead of a year or two of class and laboratory work. Dental assistants are also required to have a cardiopulmonary resuscitation certificate, which can be earned by attending a three hour class at their local fire station.
Dental hygienists, on the other hand, are not the same as dental assistants. A dental hygienist will have to attend at least two years of school, preferably four years in order to obtain a bachelor's degree, and is only a few years away from being a full-fledged dentist. They are allowed to clean teeth, give anesthesia to patients, and remove sutures.