Dental assisting is one of the highest growth areas in the American economy in the coming decade. The U.S. Department of Labor has reported that it expects a 36% growth in job outlook by 2018 for dental assistants. This is considered one of the best job outlooks in the 2018 projections. This growth is due to several factors, the most important being population growth, more demand for preventive dental care and more adults taking better care of their teeth. Needless to say, if you are looking to get an education or re-train for a new career, this is one of your best prospects.
Dental assistants work under the direct supervision of a dentist with duties ranging from patient care, office work and laboratory duties. Patient work includes prepping the patient, assisting with surgery, preparing and arranging instruments and tools for procedures, and generally assisting during treatments. The assistant also handles follow-up with the patient after a procedure to inform them of any post-operative procedures or general health issues they may need to be aware of.
In addition to assisting with direct patient care they are responsible for maintaining and updating patient records, scheduling appointments, ordering supplies and both billing and receiving of accounts. Laboratory work includes sterilizing and maintaining instruments and equipment, preparing impressions, processing x-rays, making dental molds, and creating temporary crowns.
Dental assistants may also have extended duties such as removing sutures, applying anesthetics or cavity-preventives and placing dental dams to isolate teeth for treatment. Some states are also allowing dental assistants to perform even higher level duties such as coronal polishing and restorative dentistry.
While there are opportunities for entry-level assistants to receive on-the-job-training in order to advance you will need to have some education under your belt. Most dentists are looking for the assistant who has completed an accredited dental assistant program. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is the official accrediting agency for dental-assisting training programs and should be a first stop in searching out a good program in your area. You can obtain an associate's degree from a community college which will take 2 years to complete or you can choose to take a one year program which will generally be offered on-line or through a trade school. Many states also require a license or certification which should be provided with any good dental assistant program. Having both the education and the credentials from an accredited program ensures better jobs and higher pay whether your particular state requires it or not.
Trade schools and community colleges are good choices for those just graduating from high school or for someone who does not have any other work commitments to attend to. But for those who may be self sufficient and looking to go to school while continuing to work, a good on-line program is often their best solution. There are excellent, accredited on-line programs available and many of them are associated with colleges who offer them as a means of extending educational opportunities to those who might not otherwise be able to get to a campus every day. Whichever option you choose, if you make sure it is an accredited program, offering any state required licensure or certification as a part of its program you will have everything you need to woo even the toughest personnel manager and win the best jobs available in your area.
Dental assistants earn between $22,000 and $46,000 per year depending on their experience, training, the economic environment where they live and the type of office they are working in. Per the Department of Labor, the average salary nationwide in 2008 was around $32,000. Benefits vary a great deal but 86% of assistants report receiving vacation pay and more than 50% report receiving health benefits.
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