How to Enroll In a Dental Assistant School in North Carolina
Picking the right dental assistant college in North Carolina is an important initial step toward launching your new career in dentistry. But prior to making your selection, you need to analyze and compare your school options. There is far more to completing your due diligence than selecting the training with the most affordable tuition or enrolling in the college that is closest to your residence. There are other significant issues to consider also, including the program’s accreditation and reputation. Your initial step is to decide which of the 2 specializations you are most interested in obtaining training for, which may depend on the amount of time and money that you are willing to commit. The most typical dental assistant program generally takes about 1 year to complete for a diploma or certificate. On the other hand dental hygienists usually earn an Associate Degree, which can take anywhere from two to three years to complete. Obviously with the more extensive training of a dental hygienist comes more expense. We will explore all of these factors and supplemental questions that you need to be asking the dental assistant schools you are analyzing later in this article. But first, let’s review the roles of both dental assistants and hygienists and the training options available.
The Duties of Dental Assistants
Dental assistants are an indispensable part of any North Carolina dental practice and can perform a variety of duties. Their fundamental job description is to furnish support to the dentists and the administrative staff. In other words, to help keep the practice running efficiently. Many dental assistants choose to specialize and earn certification in a specific area, for instance periodontics. Even so the majority of assistants perform any task that they are called upon to fulfill, for example:
- Setting and verifying appointments
- Readying patients for teeth treatments and cleanings
- Preparing and sterilizing dental instruments
- Using suction equipment to clear patients’ mouths
- Supplying instruments to dentists during procedures
- Readying X-ray machines and handling X-rays
- Purchasing dental and office supplies
Certification and licensing requirements for dental assistants vary by state, so consult with the North Carolina dental board for your state’s policies. Assistants dealing with X-ray machines more than likely will need to be certified and licensed. Most dental assistants who are either required or opt to become certified take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam provided by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).
The Job of Dental Hygienists
When contrasting the duties of a dental hygienist to that of an assistant, the most significant difference is undoubtedly that the dental hygienist works more independently. As earlier mentioned, the dental assistant works with and in support of the practice and the dentists. Hygienists, while also assisting the North Carolina practice, deal with the patients more on a one-to-one basis. They are frequently the initial person a patient sees when called from the waiting room. They examine every patient’s gums and teeth and present their results to the dentists. They may also carry out basic procedures. Depending on state law, a hygienist’s duties may include:
- Removing stains, tartar and plaque
- Applying fluoride treatments
- Polishing teeth and applying sealants
- Teaching patients regarding oral care
- Taking X-rays and developing film
- Applying fillings and removing sutures
To qualify for licensing in almost all states, dental hygienists must graduate from a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CDA) accredited dental hygiene program. They must also pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam as well as any state licensing exams. Once they have completed these requirements they are deemed fully licensed and can add the “RDH” designation to their names, signifying Registered Dental Hygienist.
Dental Assistant & Hygienist Education Options
Dental assistant programs are available at North Carolina community colleges along with trade or vocational schools. The most frequent credential acquired is the certificate, which generally takes about a year to complete. There are fewer Associate Degree programs offered, and they furnish a more extensive education, incorporating general subjects in addition to the dental assisting classes. Due to the additional responsibility as compared to an assistant, dental hygienists working in dental offices are normally required to hold an Associate Degree in dental hygiene. These programs can require anywhere from two to as long as three years to complete and must be accredited by the CDA in nearly every state. They are also offered in North Carolina vocational schools and community colleges. Regardless of whether you are pursuing training as a dental assistant or hygienist, there will be a practical aspect to the training also. A number of programs also offer internships with local dentists or dental practices.
Online Dental Assistant Colleges
Choosing an online dental assistant college may be a viable option for obtaining your training. Just remember that the program will not be 100% online, since there will be a clinical component to your training. But the remainder of your classes will be available via your personal computer in the comfort of your North Carolina home or anywhere else on your laptop or tablet. For those working while going to college, online dental classes make education far more obtainable. Many may even offer lower tuition fees than their on-campus counterparts. And additional expenses such as for books, school supplies and commuting may be lessened as well. The clinical training can often be completed at an area dental office or in an on-campus lab. With both the clinical and online training, everything required to obtain the proper education is furnished. If you have the dedication for this method of education, you may find that attending an online dental hygienist college is the best choice for you.
What to Cover With Dental Assistant Schools
When you have selected the dental specialty and kind of credential you wish to earn, you can begin the process of comparing North Carolina programs and schools. As we discussed at the opening of this article, many potential students start by checking out the cost and the location of the schools. Maybe they search for several online alternatives also. Even though these are important initial considerations, there are several additional questions that you should ask of the schools you are reviewing in order to reach an informed decision. Toward that end, we have furnished a list of questions to assist you with your due diligence and final selection of the right dental hygienist program for you.
Is the Dental Assistant School Accredited? There are a number of good reasons why you should only select an accredited dental assistant program. If you are planning to become licensed or certified, then accreditation is a prerequisite in almost all states. To qualify to take the Certified Dental Assistant exam, your dental program must be accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CDA). Accreditation also helps establish that the education you receive is of the highest quality and comprehensive. Employers in North Carolina often prefer or require that job applicants are graduates of accredited programs. And last, if you are applying for a student loan or financial aid, frequently they are not offered for non-accredited North Carolina programs.
Is The Right Dental Program Available? You can opt to train to become a dental assistant or a dental hygienist, just confirm that the North Carolina college you select has the program that you want. For the assistant program, the options are to enroll in a certificate program or earn an Associate Degree. In order to work as a hygienist, the majority of North Carolina dental practices require an Associate Degree in dental hygiene. More advanced degrees, although not prevalent, are offered. However, bear in mind that just because a college has a good 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 may have a weaker or non-accredited assistant program. So if you are solely interested in a dental assistant degree, naturally it would not be the right college for you.
Is Sufficient Practical Training Provided? Practical or clinical training is an important part of any dental training program. This holds true for the online school options as well. Many dental programs have partnerships with local dental offices and clinics that provide practical training for their students. It’s not only essential that the college you select offers enough clinical hours but also provides them in the kind of practice that you ultimately want to work in. For example, if you are interested in a career in pediatric dentistry, confirm that the North Carolina program you choose offers clinical rotation in a regional dental office that focuses on dental treatment for children.
Is There an Internship Program? Verify if the dental colleges you are considering sponsor an internship program. Internships are probably the best method to get hands-on, clinical experience in a professional North Carolina dental practice. They make it easier for students to transition from the theoretical to the practical. They can also help students develop professional relationships in the local dentistry community. And they are attractive on resumes also.
Is Job Placement Help Furnished? Many students that have graduated from dental assistant programs require help getting their first job. Check if the colleges you are looking at have job placement programs, and what their job placement rates are. Schools with high job placement rates probably have excellent reputations within the North Carolina dental community in addition to broad networks of contacts where they can refer their students for employment or internships.
Are Classrooms Smaller? Ask the North Carolina colleges you are interested in how large typically their classrooms are. The smaller classes generally provide a more intimate environment for learning where students have increased access to the instructors. Conversely, larger classes often are impersonal and provide little individualized instruction. If practical, find out if you can sit in on a few classes at the college that you are leaning toward so that you can experience first hand the amount of interaction between instructors and students before enrolling.
What is the Overall Cost of the Program? Dental assistant programs can vary in cost depending on the duration of the program and the volume of practical training provided. Other variables, for example the reputations of the schools and if they are public or private also have an impact. But along with the tuition there are other significant expenses which can add up. They can include expenses for such things as commuting and textbooks as well as school equipment, materials and supplies. So when analyzing the cost of programs, don’t forget to include all of the expenses associated with your education. The majority of colleges have financial assistance departments, so be sure to check out what is offered as far as grants, loans and scholarships in North Carolina.
Are the Classes Convenient? Before selecting a dental school, you must verify that the assistant program offers classes that fit your schedule. This is especially true if you continue working while acquiring your education and need to attend classes near your North Carolina home in the evenings or on weekends. And even if you select an online school, you will still be required to schedule your clinical training classes. Also, while making your inquiries, ask what the make-up policy is if you should have to miss any classes due to work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Right Dental Assistant School in North Carolina
Choosing the right dental assistant course is crucial if you intend to take the CDA examination or, if mandated in your state, become licensed. As we have covered, there are a number of options available to obtain your training and it takes a relatively short period of time to become a dental assistant. You can acquire your formal education through dental programs at junior colleges, technical institutes, trade schools and vocational schools. Graduates of these schools typically receive a Certificate. Dental Assistants normally require approximately one year of study prior to entering the work force. When earning a certificate or degree you can elect to attend classes on-campus or online. Whichever mode of training or credential you choose to pursue, by addressing the questions provided in this article you will be better prepared to make the ideal selection. And as a result, you will be ready to start your journey toward becoming a dental assistant in North Carolina.