How to Find the Right Dental Assistant Program in Pennsylvania
Selecting the ideal dental assistant program in Pennsylvania is an important first step toward launching your new career in dentistry. But before you can make your selection, you must analyze and compare your school options. There is far more to doing your due diligence than selecting the school with the lowest tuition or enrolling in the school that is closest to your home. There are other important factors to take into account also, such as the college’s accreditation and reputation. Your first step is to decide which of the 2 specialties you are most interested in receiving training for, which may depend on the amount of money and time that you have to invest. The most typical dental assistant program usually takes about 12 months to finish for a diploma or certificate. However dental hygienists usually earn an Associate Degree, which can take anywhere from two to three years to accomplish. Naturally with the prolonged training of a dental hygienist comes more expense. We will talk about all of these concerns and supplemental questions that you need to be asking the dental assistant schools you are assessing later in this article. But first, let’s look at the roles of both dental assistants and hygienists and the training options offered.
The Role of Dental Assistants
Dental assistants are an important part of any Pennsylvania dental office and can carry out a multitude of functions. Their main job description is to provide support to the dentists and the administrative staff. Or simply put, to help keep the practice working successfully. Many dental assistants elect to specialize and acquire certification in a particular area, for example periodontics. However most assistants carry out any duty that they are asked to complete, for example:
- Scheduling and confirming appointments
- Preparing patients for teeth cleanings and treatments
- Preparing and sterilizing dental instruments
- Clearing patients’ mouths with suction equipment
- Supplying instruments to dentists during procedures
- Preparing X-ray machines and processing X-rays
- Purchasing dental and office supplies
Certification and licensing requirements for dental assistants vary by state, so consult with the Pennsylvania dental board for your state’s regulations. Assistants working with X-ray machines more than likely will need to be licensed and certified. Most dental assistants who are either required or decide to become certified take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam provided by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).
The Function of Dental Hygienists
When comparing the role of a dental assistant to that of a hygienist, the biggest difference is undoubtedly that the dental hygienist works more independently. As earlier mentioned, the dental assistant works with and assists the dentists and the practice. Hygienists, while also supporting the Pennsylvania practice, work with the patients more on an individual basis. They are frequently the initial person a patient sees when called from the waiting room. They examine each patient’s teeth and gums and present their findings to the dentists. They also may carry out basic procedures. Based on state law, a hygienist’s responsibilities may include:
- Removing tartar, stains and plaque
- Applying fluoride treatments
- Applying sealants and polishing teeth
- Teaching patients about oral hygiene
- Taking and developing X-rays
- Removing sutures and applying fillings
In order to be licensed in nearly all states, dental hygienists must graduate from a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CDA) accredited dental hygiene program. They also must pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Exam in addition to passing any state licensing exams. Once they have completed these requirements they are considered fully licensed and can add the “RDH” designation to their names, signifying Registered Dental Hygienist.
Dental Assistant and Hygienist Training Options
Dental assistant courses are offered at Pennsylvania community colleges in addition to trade or vocational schools. The most frequent credential earned is the certificate, which usually takes about 1 year to complete. There are fewer Associate Degree programs offered, and they provide a more comprehensive education, incorporating general subjects in addition to the dental assisting classes. As a result of the increased responsibility as compared to an assistant, dental hygienists working in dental practices are often required to have an Associate Degree in dental hygiene. These programs can take anywhere from two to as long as three years to complete and must be accredited by the CDA in almost every state. They are also offered in Pennsylvania community colleges and technical schools. Whether you are pursuing training as a dental assistant or hygienist, there will be a clinical aspect to the training as well. Some programs also offer internships with local dentists or dental practices.
Online Dental Assistant Classes
Selecting an online dental assistant college might be a great option for receiving your training. Just keep in mind that the classes will not be 100% online, since there will be a clinical portion to your training. But the rest of your classes will be accessible by means of your personal computer in the comfort of your Pennsylvania home or anywhere else on your laptop or tablet. For those continuing to work while attending school, online dental programs make education far more obtainable. Some may even charge lower tuition fees than their traditional counterparts. And additional expenses for items like commuting, books and school supplies may be reduced also. The practical training can usually be performed at a community dental office or in an on-campus lab. With both the online and clinical training, everything needed to receive the proper education is provided. If you have the discipline for this method of learning, you may find that attending an dental hygienist online school is the right choice for you.
Questions to Cover With Dental Assistant Colleges
When you have selected the dental specialty and kind of credential you wish to earn, you can begin the procedure of comparing Pennsylvania programs and schools. As we discussed at the opening of this article, a number of potential students begin by looking at the cost and the location of the colleges. Possibly they look for some online alternatives as well. Even though these may be important initial factors to consider, there are a few additional questions that you should ask of the colleges you are looking at 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 ideal dental hygienist program for you.
Is the Dental Assistant Program Accredited? There are several important reasons why you should only pick an accredited dental assistant program. If you are planning to become certified or licensed, then accreditation is a condition in almost all states. In order 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 instruction you get is comprehensive and of the highest quality. Employers in Pennsylvania typically prefer or require that job applicants are graduates of accredited colleges. And last, if you are applying for a student loan or financial aid, often they are not available for non-accredited Pennsylvania colleges.
Is The Right Dental Program Offered? You can decide to train to become a dental hygienist or a dental assistant, just make sure that the Pennsylvania college you choose has the program that’s right for you. For the assistant program, the options are to earn either a certificate or an Associate Degree. In order to have a career as a hygienist, most Pennsylvania dental offices require an Associate Degree in dental hygiene. More advanced degrees, although not common, are available. However, keep in mind that just because a school has an excellent reputation as well as accreditation does not mean all of its programs do as well. For example, an accredited college may have a strong 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 Adequate Practical Training Provided? Practical or clinical training is a necessary part of any dental training program. This holds true for the online school options as well. Most dental schools have relationships with area dental practices and clinics that provide practical training for their students. It’s not only imperative that the program you select provides sufficient clinical hours but also provides them in the kind of practice that you ultimately would like to work in. For example, if you are interested in a career in pediatric dentistry, check that the Pennsylvania program you enroll in offers clinical rotation in a regional dental practice that specializes in dental services for children.
Is There an Internship Program? Find out if the dental schools you are exploring have an internship program. Internships are undoubtedly the most effective method to receive hands-on, practical experience in a real Pennsylvania dental practice. They make it easier for students to transition from the theoretical to the practical. They can also help students create professional relationships in the local dentistry community. And they look good on resumes as well.
Is Job Placement Help Furnished? Many graduating students of dental assistant schools need assistance landing their first job. Find out if the schools you are considering have job assistance programs, and what their job placement rates are. Programs with high job placement rates probably have excellent reputations within the Pennsylvania dental profession as well as extensive networks of contacts where they can place their students for internships or employment.
Are Classes Smaller? Ask the Pennsylvania colleges you are looking at how large typically their classes are. The smaller classes usually provide a more intimate setting for learning where students have increased access to the instructors. On the other hand, bigger classes can be impersonal and offer little one-on-one instruction. If practical, find out if you can sit in on a few classes at the school that you are leaning toward in order to witness first hand the degree of interaction between students and teachers before making a commitment.
What is the Overall Cost of the Program? Dental assistant programs can differ in cost based on the length of the program and the volume of practical training provided. Other factors, such as the reputations of the colleges and whether they are private or public also come into play. But along with the tuition there are other substantial costs which can add up. They can include expenses for such things as textbooks and commuting as well as school equipment, materials and supplies. So when comparing the cost of schools, don’t forget to add all of the expenses related to your education. The majority of colleges have financial aid departments, so make sure to check out what is offered as far as loans, grants and scholarships in Pennsylvania.
Are the Classes Convenient? Before selecting a dental college, you must verify that the assistant program furnishes classes that accommodate your schedule. This is especially true if you will be working while receiving your education and must attend classes near your Pennsylvania home in the evenings or on weekends. And even if you select an online college, you will still be required to schedule your clinical training classes. Also, while addressing your concerns, ask what the make-up policy is if you should have to miss any classes due to illness, work or family issues.
Enroll in the Right Dental Assistant College in Pennsylvania
Choosing the right dental assistant course is imperative if you wish to take the CDA exam or, if mandated in your state, become licensed. As we have covered, there are several alternatives available to obtain your education and it takes a fairly short amount of time to become a dental assistant. You can obtain your formal education through dental programs at junior colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes and trade schools. Graduates of these schools generally obtain a Certificate. Dental Assistants usually require about one year of study prior to entering the job market. When earning a certificate or degree you can choose to attend classes on-campus or online. Whichever mode of training or credential you elect to pursue, by addressing the questions provided in this article you will be better prepared to make the best choice. And as a result, you will be ready to start your journey toward becoming a dental assistant in Pennsylvania.