Dental assistants are in high demand in today’s world. Statistics show that only around 25% of Americans fear the dentist in today’s world. With more people seeing dentists regularly, dentists need to rely on dental assistants to help complete appointments on a timely basis. In the state of Florida, dental assistants often have completed an accredited program, become certified, and participate in continuing education courses in order to retain their certification. Some dentists use internships to help train the dental assistant to meet their needs, if this is the case the dental assistant must still take state approved courses in radiography and health protocol or their job duties are severely limited.

Going to School to Become a Dental Assistant

Before a dental assistant can start his or her duties, a number of courses are generally required. A high school diploma or GED is required. Those opting to attend a college or vocational program must complete around 1,200 hours of coursework that lasts for around a school year. At Palm Beach Community College, the course requires nine months of study. Students must pay their tuition (average cost is $2 per classroom hour for in-state students and $8 for out-of-state students), application fees ($10 for in-state, $20 for out-of-state), registration ($15), lab fees ($250), text books (around $650), uniforms ($300), parking ($9 per semester), and dentistry board fees ($225). The full vocational program requires a total of 40 credits.

Any college offering a vocational program in dental assisting requires proof of Hepatitis B vaccination for both the patient’s safety and the dental assistant’s. Many colleges also require proof that all vaccinations are up to date and some colleges also require the meningitis vaccination.

Classes required to gain a certificate in dental assisting include:

  • Clinical Practice and Clinical Practice Lab
  • Clinical Procedures and Clinical Procedures Lab
  • Communication
  • Dental Anatomy
  • Dental Assisting and Dental Assisting Lab
  • Dental Lab
  • Dental Practices
  • Dental Psychology
  • Dental Theory
  • Materials and Materials Lab
  • Office Emergencies
  • Office Management
  • Patient Relations
  • Preventative Dentistry
  • Radiology and Radiology Lab

There is the option of receiving training directly in a dental office. This is often a less expensive route to take, but some dentists are unwilling to invest that much time and energy into their dental assistant. If you are lucky and stumble into an apprenticeship, you are still required to take Patient Relations/Ethics and Radiology/Radiology Lab. Without these two courses, you will find the number of job duties you can legally complete are severely reduced. All x-ray taking and development become illegal to perform until you’ve completed the radiology courses.

Working as a Dental Assistant

With the completion of a training program, one can then begin working for a dental office. Job duties vary, but on an average day you will be handling these duties:

  • Helping patients get comfortable in the dental examination room
  • Taking x-rays of patient’s teeth
  • Developing the x-rays for the dentist
  • Manage the front office
  • Maintain patient records during the visit
  • Handle routine instructions and follow-up care
  • Hand dental equipment to the dentist during examinations
  • Take molds of the patient’s teeth
  • Prepare filling material when fillings are necessary
  • Provide fluoride treatments
  • Polish and remove tartar from teeth
  • Clean and sterilize all equipment and the room following a visit

Some dental assistants even handle billing, appointments, supply orders, billing patients, and creating temporary crowns as required. Often the more advanced duties like making crowns require additional training. Most dental assistants work a normal 40 hour work week, though there is a growing trend of having more than one dental assistant per office and then having them work part-time. This can prevent burnout and help cover vacations more easily. On the other hand, it can be hard for a worker who needs a full-time job. Part-time dental assistants have the option of then working in a different field for the other half of a work week, which helps break up the monotony some job details may present.

People rarely think about the fact that dental assistants work for long hours on their feet, in intense lights, and in a climate controlled environment. Because dental equipment must be kept sterile, dental offices cannot open windows in the offices, so fresh air is not an option. Those who find air conditioning to be bothersome to the sinuses may find it hard to work effectively in a dental office setting. Another issue is that patients will sneeze, cough, or otherwise spread germs unintentionally. Dental assistants and health care workers are exposed to far more germs than other people. Those with immune system problems will generally not want to work in this field. Dental assistants do wear protective masks which help, but nothing is 100% germ proof.

Find a program in Florida for becoming a dental assistant.