During any typical visit to the dentist, a person's first interaction is likely to be with a dental assistant. People may be more familiar with dentists and hygienists, but dental assistants are important in keeping things running smoothly.
Though dental assistants may train on the job, many states and employers require formal training. Some even want dental assistants to pass the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). In order to take the CDA exam, future dental assistants must complete a certain amount of coursework from an accredited program as well as on-the-job clinical training.
Fortunately, online dental assisting programs can make it easier to access this training. Many programs can be completed in a year, six months or less, depending on the program and the student.
On this page, read about 10 featured online colleges for dental assisting, and learn what you can expect from them. Plus, find out more about this career and how to prepare for it.
Online Dental Assistant Courses
Every online dental assistant college or program is different, but students can expect to study certain topics as part of their training. The following courses are typically found in dental assistant programs:
Students will learn the locations, structures and functions of the parts of the neck and head, as well as its circulatory system and the bones and muscles of the face. Students learn the structure and types of teeth and become familiar with dental terminology.
Preventive Dentistry and Nutrition
Students learn how plaque causes dental disease and will understand how fluorides help to combat it. The course also shows students the role nutrition plays in dental care and how preventive in-home measures ward off disease.
In this course, students learn about the importance of cleanliness, decontamination and sterilization, and what measures must be taken to protect patients. Students learn proper cleaning and sterilization of equipment and exam rooms.
Dental assisting programs usually will cover the basics of taking and evaluating patient x-rays and the proper care of x-ray film. Some courses will cover the effects of radiation on the body.
This course gives students an overview of the materials used in dentistry, including cement, porcelain, bonding agents, metals and implants. Students learn to prepare teeth for these materials, including prepping cavities for fillings, and how best to help dentists when they are used on patients.
This course deals with the important role dental assistants play in interacting with patients. It shows students not only how to be compassionate and helpful, but also how best to touch and talk to patients during dental treatments, as well as how best to lend needed support to dentists.
Most programs will require students to complete hands-on training in a clinical setting -- usually a dentist's office or a school dental lab. This portion of students' training allows them to rotate through the different duties involved in dental assisting while under the supervision of dentists and hygienists.
Because of the high degree of personal interaction involved in this job, future dental assistants often receive training in communications. It helps to be a good listener as well.
A considerable amount of administrative work is involved in this job -- billing, coding, or working with patients and insurance companies -- so there usually is training in dental office software and administrative skills. Future dental assistants should be organized, detail-oriented and good at working with their hands.
Finally, students will spend a lot of time studying biology and chemistry, so it helps to be interested in science and to be precise about following procedures.
Dental Assistant Career Outlook
The DANB calls dental assisting one of fastest-growing health professions in the United States. This is due to several factors. Young people take better care of their teeth than previous generations, meaning that they have regular dental check-ups. Cosmetic procedures are increasing. More services and treatments are available to patients. Plus, new or expanded insurance coverage makes it more likely that patients will have regular dental exams. Below you can see a description of the dental assistant career, as well as the outlook for the job.
Average salary refers to the 2014 mean salary for all U.S. workers in this job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
Annual Job Openings
Annual job openings refers to the average job openings each year, 2012-22, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics
This refers to the typical entry-level education needed to obtain a position in a particular job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015
Postsecondary non-degree award
Every dental practice is different, but the responsibilities of dental assistants usually include assisting dentists during procedures, cleaning and sterilizing equipment and taking dental x-rays. Dental assistants work directly with patients, helping them feel comfortable during treatments and giving them oral care instructions. These professionals also take impressions of teeth for crowns and retainers. Another important part of a dental assistant’s job is office management tasks, such as filing, scheduling and billing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that dental assistants with advanced certification or training may have the best job prospects.