How to Find the Right Dental Assistant Program in Virginia
Selecting the right dental assistant program in Virginia is an important first step toward launching your new career in dentistry. But prior to making your choice, you must evaluate and compare your school options. There is much more to performing your due diligence than selecting the school with the lowest tuition or enrolling in the program that is closest to your residence. There are other crucial issues to consider as well, for instance the college’s accreditation and reputation. Your initial step is to decide which of the two specializations you are most interested in obtaining training for, which may depend on the amount of money and time that you have to invest. The most common dental assistant program generally takes about 1 year to complete for a certificate or diploma. Meanwhile dental hygienists usually earn an Associate Degree, which can take anywhere from 2 to 3 years to complete. Obviously with the longer training of a dental hygienist comes more cost. We will discuss all of these concerns 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 roles of both dental assistants and hygienists and the training options available.
The Function of a Dental Assistant
Dental assistants are an indispensable component of any Virginia dental practice and can carry out a myriad of duties. Their principal job description is to furnish support to the dentists and the administrative staff. Or simply put, to help keep the practice running efficiently. A number of dental assistants choose to specialize and receive certification in a particular area, such as orthodontics. However most assistants carry out any job that they are asked to complete, including:
- Setting and confirming appointments
- Prepping patients for teeth treatments and cleanings
- Sterilizing and preparing dental instruments
- Clearing patients’ mouths with suction equipment
- Providing instruments to dentists during procedures
- Readying X-ray machines and handling X-rays
- Ordering dental and office supplies
Licensing and certification requirements for dental assistants differ by state, so consult with the Virginia dental board for your state’s mandates. Assistants handling X-ray machines most likely will have to be certified and licensed. Many dental assistants who are either required or decide to become certified take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).
The Role of a Dental Hygienist
When comparing the role of a dental hygienist to that of an assistant, the biggest difference is probably that the dental hygienist works more independently. As previously mentioned, the dental assistant works with and in support of the practice and the dentists. Hygienists, while also supporting the Virginia practice, deal with the patients more on a one-to-one basis. They are typically the first person a patient sees when called from the waiting room. They examine every patient’s gums and teeth and report their results to the dentists. They also may perform basic procedures. Based on state law, a hygienist’s duties may include:
- Removing tartar, stains and plaque
- Applying fluoride treatments
- Polishing teeth and applying sealants
- Educating patients regarding oral care
- Taking X-rays and developing film
- Removing sutures and applying fillings
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 licensure exams. Once they have completed these requirements they are deemed fully licensed and can add the “RDH” designation to their names, standing for Registered Dental Hygienist.
Dental Assistant & Hygienist Education Options
Dental assistant programs are provided at Virginia community colleges as well as trade or vocational schools. The most common credential attained is the certificate, which usually takes about one year to finish. There are fewer Associate Degree programs offered, and they furnish a more comprehensive education, incorporating general subjects in addition to the dental assistant courses. As a result of the increased responsibility as compared to an assistant, dental hygienists working in dental offices are usually required to have 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 virtually every state. They are also offered in Virginia community colleges and technical schools. Whether you are interested in training as a dental assistant or hygienist, there will be a practical component to the training as well. A number of programs also sponsor internships with local dental practices or dentists.
Online Dental Assistant Classes
Enrolling in an online dental assistant school may be a good option for getting your training. Just keep in mind that the classes will not be completely online, since there will be a practical component to your training. But the balance of your classes will be available via your desktop computer in the convenience of your Virginia home or anywhere else on your laptop or tablet. For those continuing to work while going to college, online dental classes make education far more obtainable. Some may even offer lower tuition costs than their on-campus competitors. And additional expenses such as for books, school supplies and commuting may be lessened also. The practical training can usually be completed at an area dental office or in an on-campus lab. With both the clinical and online training, everything needed to obtain the appropriate education is provided. If you have the discipline for this mode of learning, you may find that attending an dental hygienist online school is the best choice for you.
Questions to Cover With Dental Assistant Colleges
When you have selected the dental specialty and kind of credential you would like to obtain, you can begin the process of comparing Virginia programs and schools. As we covered at the opening of this article, many potential students begin by looking at the location and the cost of the colleges. Perhaps they look for some online options as well. Even though these may be relevant initial factors to consider, there are a few additional questions that you need to address to the programs you are reviewing in order to arrive at an informed decision. Toward that end, we have included a list of questions to assist you with your evaluation and ultimate selection of the best dental hygienist program for you.
Is the Dental Assistant College Accredited? There are several good reasons why you should only enroll in an accredited dental assistant school. 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 get is comprehensive and of the highest quality. Employers in Virginia frequently prefer or require that job applicants are graduates of accredited programs. And last, if you are requesting a student loan or financial aid, often they are not provided for non-accredited Virginia colleges.
Is The Appropriate Dental Program Offered? You can opt to train to become a dental hygienist or a dental assistant, just make sure that the Virginia college you select offers the program that you want. For the assistant program, the alternatives are to enroll in a certificate program or earn an Associate Degree. If you want to have a career as a hygienist, the majority of Virginia dental practices require an Associate Degree in dental hygiene. More advanced degrees, although not prevalent, are available. However, bear in mind that just because a college has an exceptional reputation as well as accreditation does not mean each one of its programs do as well. For example, an accredited college may have a solid accredited dental hygienist program, but might have a weaker or non-accredited assistant program. So if you are only interested in a dental assistant degree, naturally it would not be the best school for you.
Is Adequate Practical Training Provided? Clinical or practical training is an essential portion of any dental training program. This holds true for the online school options as well. Many dental schools have partnerships with regional dental offices and clinics that furnish practical training for their students. It’s not only important that the college you enroll in provides enough clinical hours but also provides them in the kind of practice that you subsequently want to work in. As an example, if you are interested in a career in pediatric dentistry, check that the Virginia college you choose offers clinical rotation in an area dental office that focuses on dental treatment for children.
Is There an Internship Program? Find out if the dental programs you are considering sponsor an internship program. Internships are undoubtedly the ideal way to receive hands-on, practical experience in a professional Virginia dental practice. They help 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 as well.
Is Job Placement Assistance Provided? Most graduating students of dental assistant schools require help obtaining their first job. Find out if the colleges you are researching have job placement programs, and what their job placement rates are. Programs with high job placement rates probably have excellent reputations within the Virginia dental community in addition to large networks of contacts where they can position their students for employment or internships.
Are the Classrooms Small? Find out from the Virginia colleges you are evaluating how big typically their classes are. The smaller classes tend to offer a more personal environment for learning where students have greater access to the instructors. On the other hand, bigger classes can be impersonal and offer little one-on-one instruction. If feasible, ask if you can monitor a few classes at the school that you are most interested in so that you can witness first hand the degree of interaction between instructors and students before making a commitment.
What is the Entire Expense of the Program? Dental assistant programs can differ in cost depending on the length of the program and the volume of clinical training provided. Other factors, for example the reputations of the colleges and if they are private or public also have an impact. But along with the tuition there are other significant costs which can add up. They can include costs for such things as commuting and textbooks as well as school equipment, materials and supplies. So when analyzing the cost of programs, remember to include all of the expenses associated with your education. Most colleges have financial aid departments, so be sure to ask what is offered as far as grants, loans and scholarships in Virginia.
Are the Classes Convenient? Before enrolling in a dental college, you need to make sure that the assistant program provides classes that fit your schedule. This is particularly true if you continue working while acquiring your education and must attend classes near your Virginia home in the evenings or on weekends. And even if you select an online college, you will still need 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.
Choose the Right Dental Assistant College in Virginia
Selecting the ideal dental assistant program is crucial if you want to take the CDA examination or, if mandated in your state, become licensed. As we have covered, there are numerous alternatives offered to receive your training and it takes a fairly short amount of time to become a dental assistant. You can acquire your formal education through dental programs at junior colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes and trade schools. Graduates of these schools usually obtain a Certificate. Dental Assistants typically require about 1 year of study before they enter the work force. When obtaining a certificate or degree you can choose to attend classes online or on-campus. Whichever mode of education or credential you elect to pursue, by asking the questions presented in this article you will be better prepared to make the right choice. And as a result, you will be ready to start your journey toward becoming a dental assistant in Virginia.