Oral hygiene and dental health are crucial. A white, healthy smile can make patients look younger and can boost confidence. In addition, oral health can promote overall health. Patients who have trouble with gum disease or dental issues are at risk of developing life-threatening infections or other health problems, including heart disease and complications with diabetes.
Dental hygienists help patients prevent cavities and take care of their teeth properly. They improve patient health and can even assist patients who want to save money on further dental work.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in the dental industry, one option is to attend dental hygienist school. With the right degree, you can get a job where you can help patients achieve their brightest smile and optimal oral health.
DAY TO DAY LIFE OF A DENTAL ASSISTANT
Dental assistants are an important part of any visit to the dentist. These professionals maintain equipment, keep vital patient records, answer patient questions, reassure patients, assess and present patient information, and more. Despite their name, dental assistants are not just about teeth cleaning. They’re often on the front lines of dental care, helping patients make better oral health decisions, showing patients how to brush and floss, and interacting with patients before patients speak to the dentist.
If you want to start a career in the dental field, there is good news. The outlook for the industry is strong. Dental hygiene employment is expected to increase 11 percent between 2018 and 2028 with 23,700 new positions. As of 2018, dental hygienists had an average salary of $74,820 per year, $35.97 per hour according to statistics compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
What You Can Do With a Dental Assistant Diploma
A Diploma will take around one year to complete. Students take theoretical classes where they learn the basics as well as more advanced classes where they cover:
- Dental hygiene techniques
- Dental materials
- Oral health
- Preventative dentistry
Students take classes which are theoretical in nature, where they learn the basics, but they also dig into more advanced concepts of dental hygiene.
During their Diploma programs, many students also work on developing the “soft” skills they need to work as a dental hygienist. For example, dental assistants must have strong interpersonal and communication skills because they work so closely with patients. Some offices also require dental hygienists to have CPR or first aid training.
Dental assistants work in dentists’ offices and greet patients, gather patient information, answer general questions, make appointments, organize the scheduling of the office, handle administrative tasks, manage office files, communicate with labs and vendors, and more. In small offices, dental assistants may sometimes help with the processing of x-rays and even teeth cleaning sometimes. A rundown of the tasks of a dental assistant would include the following:
- Pull up dental records on patients in preparation for appointments.
- Prepare patients for dental exams, teeth cleaning, root canals, and other procedures.
- Answer questions that patients might have about the upcoming exam or procedure.
- Offer advice and instructions to patients about dental hygiene.
- Sterilize dental instruments between appointments.
- Hand dental instruments to dentists during patient appointments.
- Schedule the days and times for patient appointments.
- Perform assorted tasks in the dental lab.
If you want to further your education after earning a Diploma, an associate’s degree allows students to pursue a job as a licensed dental hygienist. Some students also use the degree to pursue other careers in dental-related fields.
Having a Diploma as a dental assistant can strengthen your resume. It can also give you more career options if you decide to start work as a dental assistant but want to eventually become a licensed dental hygienist. In some states, you may need to be certified and licensed to work as a dental assistant, and pursuing a degree allows you to gain the clinical and practical knowledge you need to pass the exams for licensing.
The employment outlook for dental assistants is strong as well. Employment for dental assistants is expected to grow 11 percent between 2018 and 2028, with 38,700 new positions, which is higher than the national average for employment growth. In 2018, the average salary in this field was $38,660 per year, $18.59 per hour according to the BLS.
Once you have an AAS degree in dental hygiene or a degree as a dental assistant, you don’t just have the option of pursuing jobs in private clinics. There are different options for students holding an associate’s degree in this field. Some dental hygienists who also have an entrepreneurial spirit or a business degree decide to pursue a field outside of practice. For example, they may write articles or books about dental hygiene and oral health, or run their own dental-related businesses.
Aside from the basic tasks of the dental office, the skills that you can attain as a dental assistant can open up doors in related areas of work, including the following:
- Endodontics: Assist endodontists during dental procedures where the patient needs to have a root canal.
- Oral surgery: Assist dentists during procedures that involve the removal of teeth and other corrective surgeries.
- Orthodontics: As an orthodontist assistant, you would supply tools and patient information while the orthodontist applies braces.
- Pediatric dentistry: As a pediatric assistant, you would supply tools and information during appointments that involve child tooth care.
- Periodontics: Assist periodontists during procedures where the patient requires treatment for gum problems.
- Prosthodontics: As a prosthodontist assistant, you would supply sterilized tools and patient information during procedures that involve tooth replacement.
If you excel in the field as a dental assistant, your skills and qualifications could open other doors in the management and supervisor realms. The career paths that are open to dental assistants who acquire the right skill sets include the following:
- Insurance claims processing: When patients file claims on their insurance, you would be responsible for processing the claims and passing it to the insurance companies.
- Teaching: With proper qualifications, you could teach new graduates who are just now entering the dental profession.
- Dental product sales representative: Once you know all the benefits of each dental product sold at your clinic, you could become a sales representative.
A dental assistant Diploma could open the doors to various types of assistant work in the dental industry.
Building on Your Education
Some students use a Diploma as a stepping stone to more opportunities. They start with this degree but then gain experience and additional education to pursue a wider array of jobs. If you decide to pursue additional degrees or educational qualifications, you may qualify for different jobs, including positions in:
There are a number of government programs hiring dental assistants. These include programs designed to get dental care to remote or underprivileged areas, for example.
- Educational programs
Some dental assistants get jobs with private companies or government agencies working to bring education and dental care to schools. Dental hygienists travel to different schools — usually with support teams — to teach children about proper dental hygiene, brushing, and flossing. Some dental assistants take an even more active approach to education, helping to create educational programs, text books, pamphlets, and other materials for children and parents to help them maintain proper oral health.
- Sealant programs
School-based sealant programs bring dental care to at-risk children in schools. Vans equipped with dental materials and staffed with dentists, dental hygienists, and other dental professionals travel to schools where they assess children’s dental health, offer dental advice and care, and apply dental sealants to teeth.
Assisted-living facilities, retirement homes, jails, hospitals, shelters, and a variety of other institutions where residents or patients may need dental care will sometimes hire dental hygienists. In other cases, dental hygienists will work with organizations bringing dental care to these institutions.
- Dental products industries
The companies producing dental products and materials sometimes hire dental hygienists as part of the testing processes and as sales representatives to bring their products to dentists’ offices or to the general public. Dental hygienists may also work on developing marketing materials or educational materials about new products, or they may work in other areas of this industry.
- Pharmacy companies
Pharmaceutical companies developing medication or medical devices for oral health may require dental hygienists for patient testing, research, or other tasks. In some cases, pharmacy companies hire dental hygienists as part of their sales representative team.
Nonprofit organizations bring dental health to at-risk or disadvantaged areas. In many cases, these nonprofits rely on donations or government money, so dental hygienists still get paid but get the opportunity to help those who cannot otherwise afford dental care.
What You Can’t Do With a Dental Assistant Diploma
A dental assistant Diploma will not prepare a student for more intensive dental practice. As a holder of an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, you will not be responsible for diagnosing oral health issues or for root canals, dental surgery, cavity filling, and other tasks left to dentists. You will also not be able to write prescriptions for medication.
Holders of Diplomas also don’t teach in the dentistry field and don’t conduct research. A graduate degree is required for those positions. Four-year degrees may also be required for management positions, such as clinical director or program director roles. Management and administration roles require additional leadership and the ability to lead teams or groups of people. If you’re interested in these options, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in dentistry or a graduate education are options you might want to explore.
Do You Want to Become a Dental Hygienist or Dental Assistant?
Are you ready for an exciting career in the dental health field? Would you like a degree to qualify you to pursue a job in this area? Our dental assistant program allows you to get started in the dental assistant field in less than one year. You’ll learn the basics of working in a dental office or clinic and interacting with patients successfully. Once you graduate, our Career Services Assistance offers you support as you look for an exciting new job.