Congratulations on your decision to go to school to get your degree or certificate in dental assisting! Whether this is your first time attending a postsecondary institution or you’re going back again, you might be a little nervous and worried that you won’t succeed. Fear not! The good news is that even if you don’t feel that academic pursuits are your strong suit, dental assisting school focuses more on technical trade aspects of education than on purely academic subjects like math or history. You may have to take some general classes, like anatomy and physiology, but these will not comprise the core of your curriculum. No doubt you want to graduate with a feeling of preparedness to take on this new career track. Once you’ve found a job, you’ll face a new set of challenges – adjusting to a new work environment and coworkers, for example. Here are some friendly tips for how to succeed both in dental assisting school and in your occupation as a dental assistant.
1. Take the time to find the right dental assisting program for you.
There are a lot of options out there for school, from short nine or twelve week programs to other course combinations lasting a year and a half or more. Ask yourself a few questions. Have I been to school before and feel comfortable skipping the more basic science and math classes? Do I have the time to devote to going to school full-time? What can I afford financially? What does my state require? Shorter programs are less expensive than longer ones, but don’t generally go into as much detail with coursework. Some schools recommend using shorter training programs if you already have an associate’s degree and are returning to school for the dental assisting trade in particular.
2. Participate in an externship if possible.
Learning in classrooms is great, but working in the field of dentistry is a very hands-on task. Especially for people who have trouble visualizing concepts, hearing about how to take x-rays or clean instruments in a classroom might not cut it. The good news is that programs of all different lengths often offer externships, or opportunities for students to work in an actual dentist’s, orthodontist’s, or oral surgeon’s office before graduating. This opportunity will help you gain real-world experience that will not only help you learn better, but will also make you a more attractive candidate for jobs.
3. Consider becoming a certified dental assistant (CDA).
Many states don’t require that dental assistants take an exam and officially become certified, which is why some students might choose to skip it. But by becoming certified, you could take on additional responsibilities at the office, such as by performing radiological procedures. You would also have more upward mobility because you could move on to become an office manager or sales representative, to name two possibilities. By being certified, taking on more responsibility, and advancing your career, you could ultimately earn more money. To be certified, you need to have graduated from an American Dental Assistant accredited program, have completed 3,500 hours of work experience, have a GED or high school diploma, and pass the CDA exam.