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How to Become a Dental Assistant

Do you actually like going to the dentist? Are you someone who is adamant about dental hygiene? Do you floss everyday? If you answered yes to all of these questions (except maybe the floss one, it can be our secret) then becoming a dental assistant may be the perfect career for you. In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about how to become a dental assistant.

Related: Top dental school scholarships

What does a dental assistant do? 

A few daily responsibilities include:

  • Assisting with dental procedures such as fillings
  • Preparing patients for surgery
  • Cleaning up after procedures
  • Sterilizing dental equipment
  • Operating dental equipment
  • Taking X-rays

However, the work that a dental assistant performs depends heavily on the state and particular clinic they work in. 

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How to become a dental assistant, step-by-step

1. Earn a high school diploma or GED

To become a dental assistant, the first step is earning a high school diploma or GED (you do not need a college degree).  

The job and requirements are extremely dependent on the state you plan to work in. Let’s take a closer look at the requirements and training needed to become a dental assistant. 

2. Choose a state and understand the state’s requirements for becoming a dental assistant

A helpful map of the different requirements by state for dental assistants should be the first place you look. This map was created by the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. 

3. Enroll in a program if necessary for your state

Be sure to enroll in programs that have been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in your state. 

Even if your state does not require a certification, you may still reap the benefits of completing a certification program. It can provide you with valuable knowledge and give you a leg up on other applicants.  

4. Complete licensing requirements

Visit the Dental Assistant National Board’s website to view your state’s certification requirements. 

The basic requirements are usually: 

  • Graduate from an accredited program 
  • Obtain a high school diploma 
  • Currently be CPR certified

5. Gain experience

Gaining experience in the dental field will be extremely beneficial. You can do this through an internship or part-time job within a dental clinic.

A typical internship would look like working alongside a dentist or dental hygienist. This will provide you hands-on experience in a dental office. 

However, you can also gain valuable experience from participating in experiences that are not immediately relevant to the profession. An example would be a secretary at a dentist office. This will demonstrate interest in the field and enable you to make connections at the dental office to further your connections.                                                                                                            

Gaining experience will make your resume stand out. It will also give you a taste of what your future career as a dental assistant will look like. 

5. Apply for the position

Now that you have completed all the requirements and filled your resume with experience- time to apply!

Be sure that you have fulfilled all the requirements for the state you are applying to. 

6. Use your experience to become a dental hygienist or dentist

Dental assistants can choose to complete an advanced degree later on in their careers to become a dental hygienist or dentist after working as a dental assistant for a few years.

This career change will mean completing further education and training. Your experience as a dental assistant will make this transition smoother and provide you with valuable experience and insight into the world of dentistry.

Related: How to become a dental hygienist

Frequently asked questions for becoming a dental assistant

What is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist? 

A dental assistant performs a range of tasks related to patient care. A few of these tasks include sterilizing dental equipment, taking patients to their rooms and processing X-rays. Licensing requirements for dental assistants vary by state. 

A dental hygienist cleans patient’s teeth, performs examinations and educates patients on how to care for their teeth. A minimum of an associates degree in dental hygiene is typically required. Licensing is required in all states for dental hygienists. 

How much do dental assistants make? 

Dental assistants make a median salary of $38,660 per year in 2021,according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

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