Tips for Surviving Dental Assisting School: Expectations, Requirements, and Challenges
Dental Assistants (DAs) play a major role in dental health. On any given day, they might do everything from disinfecting instruments to taking dental X-rays and assisting the dentist during exams. Dental Assistants are responsible for putting a diverse group of patients at ease, while providing encouragement to patients that range in age and background.
(Click here to read our comprehensive career guide on how to become a Dental Assistant.)
Many have described the Dental Assisting profession as an important and rewarding career in the medical field. In order to help you jumpstart your goals, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide that will give you all the tips, tricks, and resources you’ll need to enter Dental Assisting school with confidence.
Why Become a Dental Assistant?
Dental Assistants have great interpersonal skills and prefer to work with their hands rather than at a desk. They also have an eye for detail, maintain impressive dexterity, and support dentists while patients are treated. Some benefits of this profession include a bright job outlook and career stability. If you’re interested in helping others, then you might want to learn more about this hands-on profession!
In addition, Dental Assistants can enter the workforce relatively fast when compared to other medical professions. Of course, picking the right program that fits your schedule, timing, and availability is vital.
Find the Best Dental Assisting Program for You
Once you’ve decided to pursue Dental Assisting, the next step is to find the DA program that’s best for you. There are several factors to consider when choosing a Dental Assisting school, such as the program’s length, location, and curriculum. Most importantly, you should consider your individual needs.
Prospective students may value different things in a Dental Assistant program. For instance, some students feel that a close student-to-teacher ratio is critical to their success in the classroom, while others might place more value in the number of hours set aside for clinical externships. Take a moment to consider what is important to you and ask the right questions when meeting you’re your admissions representatives.
(Curious about Dental Assisting salaries? Click here to explore the Highest Paying Cities for Dental Assistants.)
Here are some sample questions you might want to ask when applying for dental assistant school:
- What are the tuition costs and financial aid options?
- What are the academic prerequisites?
- How long does it take to complete the program?
- What specific topics are covered?
- Are there any clinical externships or simulations?
- What percentage of the program’s students graduate?
- What percentage of the program’s graduates find employment?
How to Get into Dental Assisting School?
Each Dental Assistant program will have its own requirements and prerequisites. Be sure to check the school’s website or speak with an admissions representative to get a better idea of the requirements.
Generally, there are three routes you can take to become a registered Dental Assistant. Each one requires a different level of time and dedication.
1. On-the-Job Training
Assuming you live in a state that doesn’t have formal requirements, you might be able to find employment without attending a Dental Assistant program. In these situations, you would gain experience through on-the-job training. A Dental Assistant, hygienist, or dentist in the office would teach you about dental terminology, the names of instruments, how to complete daily tasks, and how to interact with patients.
2. Dental Assistant Certification
In some states, you must graduate from a Dental Assisting certificate or diploma program. They usually require about a year of school. Most Dental Assistant programs are offered by vocational schools or community colleges.
Dental Assisting classes often cover topics like infection control, medical emergencies, dental X-rays, and dental instruments.
3. Dental Assistant Degree
Some schools offer an associate degree program for aspiring Dental Assistants. In these degree programs, general education courses are combined with Dental Assistant education. According to the BLS, however, degree programs that last two years are less common for entry-level Dental Assistants.
What Are Dental Assisting School Prerequisites?
All Dental Assistant programs have some form of prerequisites that must be completed prior to beginning your education. Some places may have stricter Dental Assisting school requirements, while others have more lenient or accepting prerequisites. Make sure you pick the program that is right for you and that is tailored to your specific needs. To give you a better idea, here are some general Dental Assisting program requirements that you may come across:
- Career planning session and admissions interview
- Submit proof of high school education or equivalent
- Entrance assessment test
- Admissions application
- Enrollment agreement
- Financing arrangements and, if applicable, all documents needed to obtain an official award letter for Federal Student Aid
While a background check is not always required for admission to Dental Assisting school, an externship site may still require one.
Entrance examination requirement may also vary by college. At Unitek College, for instance, Dental Assisting program applicants must achieve a passing score on the “Scholastic Level Exam – Q” (SLE-Q).
Many Dental Assistant programs will also require up-to-date immunization from their students before they can embark on their training externships. At Unitek College, Dental Assisting students must provide proof of the following immunizations by the end of the third successfully completed module of the program:
- One Step PPD (TB)
- 2 x MMR (measles, mumps & rubella)
- 2 x Varicella (chicken-pox)
- 3 x Hepatitis B
PPD results must be dated within six months of the externship start date. Students must show current immunity to Rubella (German measles), Rubeola, Varicella (Chicken Pox), mumps & Hepatitis B. Keep in mind that verbal confirmation of the above is not acceptable. Students need to provide one of the below forms:
- Document printed out from the Primary Care Provider that shows the exact immunization(s) & date(s) given along with the Primary Care Provider signature.
- Print out from Primary Care Provider showing exact titer(s) & result(s) indicating immunity.
- Legal California Immunization Record card showing the immunizations & the date given, or the results of a titer & dates of test, along with the Primary Care Provider signature.
How Much Does It Cost to Become a Dental Assistant?
Out-of-pocket school costs can vary depending on your individual situation. They will also depend on the location, school, and type of program. Dental Assistant school prices can range anywhere from $4,000 to $16,000.
Some programs may also charge a higher price for more clinical externships or cutting-edge medical equipment. Again, be sure to research your favored schools and ask the admissions representatives about tuition costs as well as their financial aid options. You might be eligible for financial aid, which can cover many college expenses, such as:
- Room and Board
- Computer Equipment
- Living Expenses
Is Dental Assisting School Hard?
You may be wondering how hard is Dental Assisting school, when compared to other degrees? It all depends on the individual as well as their strengths and weaknesses. You should consider your natural gifts, personality type, interests, and motivations. For instance, if you want to help others, you don’t enjoy working at a desk, and you are detail oriented/organized/dexterous, you could thrive in Dental Assisting school.
It’s good to remember that failing a test or even a class isn’t the end of the world. Success isn’t a straight line, nor is it measured by failure, but rather by persistence and determination. While some exams or clinical simulations may be intense, keep in mind that your program is designed to prepare you for the field.
So, how difficult is Dental Assisting school? It depends on who you ask. Some find it difficult, while others find it very manageable. At Unitek College, we offer a Dental Assisting program with a career-driven curriculum. Our 10-month program provides the skills, experience, and knowledge that students will need to excel in the field.
Courses cover all aspects of the profession, including infection control and sterilization techniques, handling medical emergencies, taking dental X-rays, making impressions, and the use of dental instruments. Plus, students benefit from a supervised externship and employment assistance.
Dental Assisting School Tips
When it comes to surviving Dental Assisting school, try to remember that countless students enroll in DA programs every year. We have no doubt that you will be one of them, too! If you need help, there are many Dental Assisting school study tips at your disposal.
Here are just some study tips for Dental Assisting students.
- Always Eat Before Class –This tip may sound obvious, but it can have a big impact on your ability to focus. You may not retain critical information if your stomach is growling throughout the lecture. If you don’t normally have time to eat, pack a healthy snack ahead of time (don’t forget to bring plenty of water!)
- Dress for Function and Comfort –Not only do you want to be comfortable, but you might need to be on your feet during class. Many DA programs teach their students through hands-on exercises. Plus, you don’t want to worry about ripping or staining your favorite clothes.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions –Ask as many questions as necessary to understand the information. It’s vital that you comprehend this material for your future profession. Chances are there’s someone else in your class who needs that clarification too.
- Record Your Classes/Lectures –First thing’s first: Check with your instructors to make sure they’re okay with you recording their lectures. If they don’t mind, then you can use your phone’s voice recorder function. This could help you study and ensure that your focus is on comprehension rather than memorization or notetaking.
- Ensure You Get Enough Sleep –This is another tip that is obvious but so, so important. Sleep can greatly impact your ability to perform even the simplest functions. Every night, try to get a full eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.
- Aim for Comprehension, Not Memorization –Comprehension will always trump memorization. Although it may help you pass an exam, memorization won’t always help you in real life. To succeed as a Dental Assistant, you must also comprehend the material that you study.
- Set Realistic Goals –You know yourself better than anyone else. You know your study limits, preferred style of learning, etc. Plus, it’s better to aim for gradual progress, not perfection. This is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Remember to Reward Yourself –Rewards can help your mental state as well as your workflow. Once you’ve set your study goals, enjoy some guilt-free rest and relaxation.
Last but certainly not least, you should take advantage of all the resources at your college campus. If you’re struggling with your studies, make use of the study aids, labs, and other tools that are available to you.
Dental Assistant Certification
Do You Need a License or Certificate to Be a Dental Assistant?
While some states don’t require licenses for Dental Assistants, others might require licenses, registration, or certification. In addition, some states maintain licensing requirements for Dental Assistants to work in radiography, infection control, or other specialties. If you’d like to learn more, contact your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.
Some states also need Dental Assistants to pass an exam before they perform certain tasks, such as coronal polishing or applying sealants, fluoride, and topical anesthetic. These exams are administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Educational requirements for DANB exams typically include the below:
- Graduating from an accredited program or
- A high school diploma and the necessary work experience
- Current CPR certification (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
And below are the national certifications offered by DANB:
- National Entry Level Dental Assistant(NELDA®)
- Certified Dental Assistant™ (CDA®)
- Certified Orthodontic Assistant(COA®)
- Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant(CPFDA®)
- Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant(CRFDA®)
Pursue Your Dental Assisting Journey at Unitek
Various Dental Assisting schools offer high-quality programs, so fulfilling your educational needs is relatively easy. These vocational schools are designed to give you the knowledge and skills to succeed in your dream career.
Without a doubt, Dental Assistants play an important role in dentistry. They not only support dentists on a daily basis, but their actions support the general wellbeing of their communities. Furthermore, the short duration of DA programs allow busy adults to enter the field quickly, making this profession both convenient and attainable.