How to Select a Dental Assistant Training Program in Alaska
Selecting the ideal dental assistant program in Alaska is an important first step toward beginning your new career in dentistry. But prior to making your choice, you need to analyze and compare your school options. There is far more to performing your due diligence than picking the college with the most affordable tuition or enrolling in the program that is nearest to your residence. There are other crucial factors to consider also, for instance the college’s reputation and accreditation. Your initial step is to decide which of the 2 specialties you are most interested in getting training for, which may depend on the amount of time and money that you have to commit. The most common dental assistant program usually takes about 12 months to complete for a diploma or certificate. However dental hygienists usually earn an Associate Degree, which can take anywhere from 2 to 3 years to finish. Obviously with the prolonged training of a dental hygienist comes more expense. We will cover all of these factors and supplemental questions that you should be asking the dental assistant schools you are evaluating later in this article. But first, let’s look at the duties of both dental assistants and hygienists and the training options available.
The Job of a Dental Assistant
Dental assistants are an integral part of any Alaska dental office and can perform a myriad of functions. Their fundamental job description is to give support to the dentists and the administrative staff. In other words, to help keep the practice operating efficiently. Many dental assistants elect to specialize and obtain certification in a specific area, such as pediatrics. Even so the majority of assistants perform any job that they are asked to complete, such as:
- Setting and verifying appointments
- Readying patients for teeth cleanings and treatments
- Preparing and sterilizing instruments for dentists
- Clearing patients’ mouths with suction equipment
- Providing instruments to dentists during procedures
- Preparing X-ray machines and handling X-rays
- Purchasing office and dental supplies
Certification and licensing requirements for dental assistants deviate by state, so consult with the Alaska dental board for your state’s policies. Assistants dealing with X-ray machines most likely will have to be certified and licensed. A large number of dental assistants who are either required or opt to become certified take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination provided by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).
The Role of Dental Hygienists
When contrasting the job of a dental assistant to that of a hygienist, the main difference is probably that the dental hygienist works more independently. As previously discussed, the dental assistant works with and assists the dentists and the practice. Hygienists, while also supporting the Alaska practice, deal with the patients more on a one-to-one basis. They are usually the first person a patient sees when called from the waiting area. They examine every patient’s gums and teeth and report their results to the dentists. They also may carry out basic procedures. Depending on state law, a hygienist’s responsibilities may include:
- Removing plaque, tartar and stains
- Applying fluoride treatments
- Polishing teeth and applying sealants
- Teaching patients regarding oral hygiene
- Taking X-rays and developing film
- Removing sutures and applying fillings
To qualify for licensing in nearly all states, dental hygienists must have graduated from a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CDA) accredited dental hygiene program. They also must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination in addition to passing any state licensing examinations. Once they have completed these requirements they are considered fully licensed and can add the “RDH” designation to their names, standing for Registered Dental Hygienist.
Dental Assistant and Hygienist Training Options
Dental assistant courses are provided at Alaska junior colleges along with technical or vocational schools. The most frequent credential earned is the certificate, which generally takes about one year to finish. There are less Associate Degree programs available, and they provide a more expansive education, incorporating general subjects in addition to the dental assisting classes. Because of the additional responsibility as compared to an assistant, dental hygienists employed in dental offices are generally required to hold an Associate Degree in dental hygiene. These programs can take anywhere from 2 to as long as 3 years to complete and must be accredited by the CDA in virtually every state. They are also offered in Alaska community colleges and technical schools. Whether you are interested in training as a dental assistant or hygienist, there will be a clinical component to the training also. A number of programs also sponsor internships with local dental practices or dentists.
Online Dental Assistant Colleges
Enrolling in an online dental assistant program might be a good alternative for getting your training. Just remember that the classes will not be 100% online, since there will be a clinical component to your training. But the balance of your classes will be provided by means of your desktop computer in the comfort of your Alaska home or anywhere else on your laptop or tablet. For those continuing to work while going to school, online dental programs make education much more accessible. Many may even charge lower tuition costs than their on-campus competitors. And supplementary expenses for items like commuting, books and school supplies may be lessened also. The practical training can usually be performed at a community dental practice or in an on-campus lab. With both the online and clinical training, everything necessary to obtain the proper education is provided. If you have the discipline for this style of learning, you might find that enrolling in an dental hygienist online college is the best choice for you.
Topics to Ask Dental Assistant Colleges
After you have selected the dental specialty and kind of credential you would like to obtain, you can begin the procedure of comparing Alaska programs and schools. As we discussed at the opening of this article, many potential students begin by looking at the cost and the location of the colleges. Maybe they search for several online alternatives as well. Although these may be significant initial considerations, there are several additional questions that you need to ask of the colleges you are comparing in order to reach an informed decision. To start that process, we have included a list of questions to help you with your due diligence and ultimate selection of the right dental hygienist school for you.
Is the Dental Assistant Program Accredited? There are several important reasons why you should only choose an accredited dental assistant college. If you are intending to become licensed or certified, then accreditation is a requirement in nearly all states. To qualify to take the Certified Dental Assistant examination, your dental program must be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CDA). Accreditation also helps ensure that the instruction you receive is of the highest quality and comprehensive. Employers in Alaska frequently prefer or require that job applicants are graduates of accredited programs. And last, if you are applying for financial aid or a student loan, frequently they are not offered for non-accredited Alaska programs.
Is The Proper Dental Program Available? You can choose to train to become a dental hygienist or a dental assistant, just make certain that the Alaska school you decide on offers the program that you want. For the assistant program, the alternatives are to earn either a certificate or an Associate Degree. If you want to have a career as a hygienist, many Alaska dental practices require an Associate Degree in dental hygiene. More advanced degrees, although not common, are available. However, keep in mind that just because a college has an excellent reputation as well as accreditation does not mean all of its programs do as well. For example, an accredited school may have a solid accredited dental hygienist program, but could have a weaker or non-accredited assistant program. So if you are only interested in a dental assistant degree, clearly it would not be the best college for you.
Is Plenty of Clinical Training Included? Clinical or practical training is an essential part of any dental training program. This holds true for the online school options also. Most dental programs have relationships with local dental offices and clinics that provide practical training for their students. It’s not only important that the college you enroll in provides sufficient clinical hours but also provides them in the type of practice that you ultimately would like to work in. As an example, if you have an interest in a career in pediatric dentistry, confirm that the Alaska college you select offers clinical rotation in a regional dental practice that focuses on dental services for children.
Is There an Internship Program? Verify if the dental programs you are exploring sponsor internship programs. Internships are undoubtedly the most effective way to obtain hands-on, clinical experience in a real Alaska dental practice. They make it easier for students to transition from the theoretical to the practical. They can also help students form working relationships in the professional dental community. And they are attractive on resumes too.
Is Job Placement Help Offered? Many graduating students of dental assistant programs require help landing their first job. Find out if the colleges you are researching have job assistance programs, and what their job placement rates are. Programs with higher job placement rates probably have excellent reputations within the Alaska dental profession as well as broad networks of contacts where they can refer their students for employment or internships.
Are the Classrooms Smaller? Find out from the Alaska colleges you are evaluating how large typically their classes are. The smaller classes usually provide a more intimate atmosphere for training where students have greater access to the instructors. Conversely, large classes can be impersonal and offer little one-on-one instruction. If practical, ask if you can attend a few classes at the college that you are most interested in so that you can witness first hand the amount of interaction between students and teachers before making a commitment.
What is the Entire Expense of the Program? Dental assistant schools can fluctuate in cost based on the duration of the program and the volume of clinical training provided. Other variables, for instance the reputations of the schools and if they are private or public also come into play. But along with the tuition there are other substantial expenses which can add up. They can include expenses for such things as commuting and textbooks as well as school materials, equipment and supplies. So when analyzing the cost of colleges, remember to include all of the expenses related to your education. Most schools have financial assistance offices, so make sure to check out what is available as far as loans, grants and scholarships in Alaska.
Are the Classes Convenient? Before selecting a dental school, you must confirm that the assistant program provides classes that accommodate your schedule. This is particularly true if you will be working while receiving your education and have to go to classes near your Alaska home at nights or on weekends. And even if you choose an online college, you will still have to schedule your clinical training classes. Also, while making your inquiries, ask what the make-up practice is if you should need to miss any classes because of illness, work or family responsibilities.
Select the Ideal Dental Assistant Program in Alaska
Picking the ideal dental assistant program is essential if you wish to take the CDA exam or, if mandated in your state, become licensed. As you now know, there are many alternatives available to obtain your training and it takes a relatively short amount of time to become a dental assistant. You can obtain your formal education through dental programs at community colleges, trade schools, vocational schools and technical institutes. Graduates of these schools typically obtain a Certificate. Dental Assistants typically require approximately one year of study prior to entering the job market. When pursuing a certificate or degree you can elect to go to classes online or on-campus. Whichever mode of education or credential you decide to pursue, by asking the questions presented in this article you will be in a better position to make the ideal selection. And by doing so, you will be ready to start your journey toward becoming a dental assistant in Alaska.