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Online Dental Assistant Schools and the Benefits of Certification

Teeth: Everyone is supposed to brush them at least twice each day and floss between meals. Some people even take an extra step and invest in a home whitening kit or fancy electric toothbrush to make those pearly whites gleam a little brighter. But even with the most rigorous of home care regimens, everyone needs to see a dental professional regularly to keep that smile bright for years to come. One key person in maintaining tooth health is a dental assistant.

Why dental assistants will be in demand

A dental assistant performs a variety of essential functions in a dentist's office. He/she prepares patients for cleanings and exams, sterilizes equipment, updates patient dental records, processes x-rays, assists the dentist during procedures and more. Online dental assistant schools can provide the foundation necessary for a career in this growing field. In fact, the field and the role of the dental assistant is not only growing, but growing rapidly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment of dental assistants to grow by 36 percent from 2008 and 2018--much faster than average for all occupations. The field is actually anticipated to be among the fastest growing occupations between 2008 and 2018. Why the dramatic increase?

  1. In part because of good dental care, people aren't losing their teeth when they get older as often as they used to.
  2. Dentists who are just entering the field are more likely to hire dental assistants in their practices.
  3. The availability of more complex procedures places additional demands on a dentist's time, encouraging him/her to rely more heavily on a dental assistant.
  4. Dentists are fielding increasing numbers of patients who seek preventative care.

Online dental assistant schools: Making an impression on your future

Most states do not require formal education for entry-level dental assistant positions. However, the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) approved 281 dental assisting training programs in 2009. The majority of these programs take approximately one year to complete and result in a certificate or diploma. Associate degree tracks are also offered in community college, along with dental assisting training programs in private vocational schools. Keep in mind that private programs are not accredited by the CODA.

When enrolled in an online dental assistant program, you will reap the benefits of traditional campus-based education while enjoying the convenience and flexibility an online program offers. Class schedules can be created around your calendar, there is no need to worry about fighting traffic while commuting to class.

While attending online dental assistant schools, you can expect to take classes in dental assisting skills and theory, as well as spend time in a laboratory or clinical setting. Be sure to fully understand all degree requirements prior to enrolling, as some online dental assisting programs may require hands-on training for which you'll need to spend time on campus.

Salary and certification for dental assistants

Salaries for dental assistants vary, according to reports from the BLS. In 2009, the field's mean annual wage was $34,000, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning $22,710 and those in the highest 10 percent being paid a mean annual wage of $44,070. Location also affects a dental assistant's paycheck. If you practice in the District of Columbia, you can expect to earn an annual mean wage of $45,630, according to the 2009 BLS estimates. Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Massachusetts round out the list of the five top paying states for dental assistants.

Certification may also affect your earnings potential. Certification for dental assistants is available through the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB), a nonprofit organization board for dental assistants. More than 33,000 dental assistants are currently DANB certified. While certification is not required for employment by many dental practitioners, 38 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Air Force, and Department of Veterans Affairs recognize or require successful performance on a DANB exam for dental assistants to meet state regulations or as a prerequisite to performing expanded functions.

Becoming a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) may present several benefits, including:

  1. The potential to earn more money. A 2010 DANB salary survey revealed that CDAs, whether full-time or part-time employees, earn a median wage of $2.04 more per hour than non-DANB certified assistants.
  2. A longer career with your employer. The same DANB survey found that those with certifications have been working in their current positions for 8.7 years.
  3. The opportunity for advancement and career mobility.

Dental assisting is a growing field, and on-campus or online dental assistant schools, coupled with the right certification, could help you embark on a career with staying power.