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How to Choose a Dental Assisting Program

Individuals interested in a career in dental assisting will find programs offered through colleges, vocational, and private institutions. And it is important to consider the differences between these programs in order to get the most out of your education and money. With that in my mind; I'm writing this in hopes it may help you because depending upon your needs, certain programs may or may not serve you.

Today, working adults and career-changers alike seek to further their education around a budget and a busy schedule. Academic institutions have since recognized this trend and support student demands by implementing night classes, online courses, and accelerated degree programs. Accelerated and/or "fast-track" dental assisting programs courses are generally offered through private programs or institutions. However, these schools tend to cost on average two to three times more per credit hour than a traditional community college or university. Furthermore, accelerated programs often lack proper accreditation through the American Dental Association's accreditation board: The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

CODA accredited programs are typically 1-year certificate programs; and recommended for those seeking to become formally trained and certified. Graduates become 'certified' dental assistants (CDA) by passing a three part, national exam administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). On the other hand, becoming a 'registered' dental assistant (RDA) is a matter of passing a state exam. You do not have to be certified in order to register within your state of residence.

*There are three (3) ways persons become eligible to take the DANB examination:
  1. A graduate from a Dental Assisting or Dental Hygiene accredited program.
  2. A high school graduate with a minimum 3,500 hours of verifiable experience per a dentist (employer).
  3. A current or former DANB recognized CDA - OR - graduate of a foreign dental degree program. 
*Each require a current Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation & Automated External Defibrillator (CPR & AED) certification. 

Although many dental practices prefer formally trained assistants; dentists can provide on-the-job-training as there are no legal stipulations and/or certifications necessary to work as a level 1 dental assistant (does not take x-ray). Consider speaking to dental placement agencies in your area to learn what qualifications and/or education their clients prefer within potential employees. All in all, becoming a formally trained and certified dental assistant requires approximately a year to two years of time and commitment, places you in higher demand among potential employers, and ultimately increases your earning potential.

For a full list of accredited programs click here.

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