The Dental Assistant program at the American College of Healthcare and Technology (ACHT) available in Riverside, California trains students for a career working in a dental office.
You think every scrub-wearing worker in the dentist’s office is either a dentist or dental hygienist. Some of them are, but some of the other professionals performing integral tasks in running the office and facilitating care are actually Dental Assistants. Working as a Dental Assistant is an excellent launching pad to becoming a dental hygienist or dentist.The licensing and training are slightly different for each of those positions, but the experience a Dental Assistant receives while working with patients, learning safety procedures and navigating the logistics of a dental office could be particularly beneficial for advancing in the dentistry field.
As the large baby-boom population ages, and as people keep more of their original teeth than did previous generations, the need to maintain and treat teeth will continue to increase the need for dental care which will increase the need for Dental Assistants.
Additionally, the Dental Assistant Program prepares students for the requirements necessary to earn a California Radiation Safety Certificate (limited to dental x-ray). Students practice techniques and procedures in a spacious and modern dental laboratory to gain proficiency in those competencies. In addition, equipment, materials, and instruments comparable to those used in an actual dental facility are used in our classrooms. Students will be introduced to all phases of dentistry, including diagnostic and procedural terminology, as well as clinical, radiographic, and preventive dentistry procedures, and will receive an eight-hour Infection Control certificate and a two-hour Dental Practice Act certificate.
Dental assistants work in a well-lighted, clean environment. Their work area usually is near the dental chair so that they can arrange instruments, materials, and medication and hand them to the dentist when needed. Dental Assistants wear gloves, masks, eyewear, and protective clothing to protect themselves and their patients from infectious diseases. Following safety procedures also minimizes the risks associated with the use of radiographic equipment. Almost half of all Dental Assistants have a 35 to 40-hour workweek, which may include work on Saturdays or evenings. Dental Assistants perform a variety of patient care, office, and laboratory duties.
They often schedule and confirm appointments, receive patients, keep treatment records, send bills, receive payments, obtain dental records, and order dental supplies and materials. They also sterilize instruments and equipment, prepare tray setups for dental procedures, and instruct patients on postoperative and general oral health care. Dental Assistants also work directly with the patients, making them as comfortable as possible in the dental chair and preparing them for treatment. They also work chair-side alongside the dentist as she/he examines and treats patients.
They hand instruments and materials to the dentist, and keep patients’ mouths dry and clear by using suction or other devices. Additional duties vary from state to state, depending on that state’s Dental Practice Act, and depending upon how involved the dentist would like the assistant to be. Under the dentist’s direction, some dental assistants prepare materials for making impressions and restorations, expose radiographs, and process dental x-ray film. They may even remove sutures, apply anesthetics, remove excess filling cement, and place dental dams on teeth to isolate them for treatment.
Dental assistants typically do the following:
- Work with patients to make them comfortable in the dental chair and to prepare them for treatments and procedures
- Sterilize dental instruments
- Prepare the work area for patient treatment by setting out instruments and materials
- Help dentists by handing them instruments during procedures
- Keep patients’ mouths dry by using suction hoses and other equipment
- Instruct patients in proper dental hygiene
- Process x-rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist
- Keep records of dental treatments
- Schedule patient appointments
- Work with patients on billing and payment
Dental Assistants who perform lab tasks, such as making casts of a patient’s teeth, work under the direction of a dentist. They may prepare materials for casts of teeth or to create temporary crowns. All dental assistants complete tasks, such as helping dentists with procedures and keeping patient records, but there are four regulated tasks that assistants may perform, depending on the state where they work.
- Coronal polishing
- Sealant application
- Fluoride application
- Topical anesthetics application
Coronal polishing, which means removing soft deposits such as plaque, gives teeth a cleaner appearance. In sealant application, a dental assistant paints a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities. Fluoride application, in which fluoride is put directly on the teeth, is another anti-cavity measure. Some dental assistants may be qualified to apply topical anesthetic to an area of a patient’s mouth, temporarily numbing the area to help prepare a patient for procedures.
The Dental Assistant Program at American College of Healthcare and Technology is designed to prepare you for the real world of working as a dental health professional in various dental office facilities, including private practice, hospital dental departments, dental supply manufacturers, and dental insurance companies. Graduates may also secure employment in other areas of dentistry, such as Pediatric Dentistry, or as a back office assistant, and may work for public health facilities, correctional facilities, schools/universities, clinics, and dental suppliers.
Employment of Dental Assistants is projected to grow 25 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will likely continue to increase the demand for preventive dental services. Dentists will continue to hire more dental assistants to complete routine tasks, allowing the dentist to see more patients in their practice and to spend their time on more complex procedures. As dental practices grow, more dental assistants will be needed.
Federal health legislation is expected to expand the number of patients who have access to health insurance. People with new or expanded dental insurance coverage will be more likely to visit a dentist than in the past. This will increase the demand for all dental services, including those performed by dental assistants.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there should be more than 74,000 new openings for dental assistants up to the year 2022. That amounts to nearly 24.5 percent employment growth, which is much faster than the average for all professions. There are several reasons for the increased openings, including the fact that current generations take better care of their teeth than their parents and grandparents and regularly visit a dental office. Expanded health insurance coverage has also led to more patients, which should drive the demand for dental assistants in dentists’ offices and outpatient care centers.
- Be at least 18 years old. If younger than 18, the applicant must provide a valid high school diploma or equivalent.
- Provide a valid high school diploma or equivalent.
- Interview with an admissions representative and tour the campus.
- Complete all requisite forms in the admissions packet.
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