If you're looking for a challenging career in the medical/dental field without years of schooling, you may want to consider becoming a dental assistant. Dental assistants (or dental nurses, as they're known in the U.K.) are responsible for the daily operations of a dental office, as well as lab work, assisting the dentist during cleanings and other procedures, and helping patients with dentist anxiety. Learn more about what it takes to become a dental assistant and if it may be right for you.
- Skill level:
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Take general classes. Still in high school, but interested in a job as a dental assistant? Take classes in biology, chemistry, health and office practices. Because many offices hire dental assistants out of high school and train on the job, having this background from school may be all you need.
Research local requirements. Some states and localities have a licensure process for dental assistants while others don't. Find out if there are requirements in your state for becoming a dental assistant, which may include a written or practical exam. Most accredited dental assistant programs will ensure you meet state requirements.
Consider a dental assistant program. As community colleges and technical schools offer more classes, dentists are starting to look for assistants with more knowledge about the field. Check at your local community college for courses in dental assisting. Look for programs with accreditation from the American Dental Association. Technical schools usually offer a one-year certificate program, while community colleges offer a two-year program leading to an associates' degree.
Search for a job. Many schools offering certificates or degrees in dental assisting will also help you search for your first job when you graduate. More often, however, you will be on your own. Search local job boards both online and in the papers for entry-level opportunities in dental assisting.
Consider further education. Depending on the state in which you live, you may need to meet certification requirements and recertify every year. However, this is an opportunity to further your education and move on to other positions, including office manager or dental hygienist. Check out the Dental Assisting National Board for more information on furthering your education in dental nursing.
Tips and warnings
- When searching for a dental assisting program, be sure to assess the program based on how much hands-on experience you will get. While an online course may sound easy, it is unlikely to prepare you like a hands-on practicum would.
- There are a lot of schools out there promising careers in dental nursing, some after only four or six months. Beware, however, that many of these short courses are not accredited. While they may teach some practical skills, they will not carry as much weight as an accredited course, which will be more worth your time and effort.
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