How to Pick a Dental Assistant School in Washington
Choosing the ideal dental assistant program in Washington is an essential initial step toward starting your new career in dentistry. But before you can make your selection, you need to evaluate and compare your school options. There is far more to performing your due diligence than choosing the program with the most affordable tuition or enrolling in the school that is closest to your home. There are other significant factors to take into account as well, such as the school’s reputation and accreditation. Your initial step is to decide which of the two specializations you are most interested in getting training for, which may depend on the amount of time and money that you have to invest. The most common dental assistant program normally takes about 1 year to finish for a diploma or certificate. Meanwhile dental hygienists usually earn an Associate Degree, which can take anywhere from 2 to 3 years to finish. Naturally with the longer training of a dental hygienist comes more expense. We will explore 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 explore the duties of both dental assistants and hygienists and the training options available.
The Function of a Dental Assistant
Dental assistants are an integral component of any Washington dental office and can perform a variety of duties. Their principal job description is to give support to the admin staff and the dentists. Or simply put, to help keep the practice running efficiently. Some dental assistants opt to specialize and acquire certification in a specific area, such as pediatrics. However the majority of assistants perform any duty that they are called upon to fulfill, for example:
- Scheduling and confirming appointments
- Prepping patients for teeth treatments and cleanings
- Sterilizing and preparing dental instruments
- Clearing patients’ mouths with suction equipment
- Handing instruments to dentists during procedures
- Readying X-ray machines and processing X-rays
- Purchasing office and dental supplies
Licensing and certification requirements for dental assistants deviate by state, so check with the Washington dental board for your state’s policies. Assistants working with X-ray machines more than likely will need to be certified and licensed. 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 Duties of a Dental Hygienist
When comparing the duties 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 in support of the dentists and the practice. Hygienists, while also assisting the Washington practice, work with the patients more on an individual basis. They are typically the first person a patient sees when called from the waiting area. They examine each patient’s teeth and gums and present their results to the dentists. They also may carry out basic procedures. Depending on state law, a hygienist’s duties can include:
- Removing plaque, tartar and stains
- Applying fluoride treatments
- Polishing teeth and applying sealants
- Instructing patients about oral care
- Taking and developing X-rays
- Applying fillings and removing sutures
To qualify for licensing in almost all states, dental hygienists must have graduated 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 examinations. Once they have fulfilled these requirements they are regarded as fully licensed and can add the “RDH” designation to their names, signifying Registered Dental Hygienist.
Dental Assistant and Hygienist Education Options
Dental assistant programs are provided at Washington community colleges in addition to vocational or technical schools. The most common credential acquired is the certificate, which ordinarily takes about 1 year to finish. There are less Associate Degree programs offered, and they furnish a more extensive education, including general subjects in addition to the dental assisting courses. As a result of the increased responsibility in contrast to an assistant, dental hygienists employed in dental offices are usually 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 almost every state. They are also offered in Washington trade schools and community colleges. Regardless of whether you are interested in training as a dental assistant or hygienist, there will be a clinical component to the training as well. Some programs also offer internships with local dental practices or dentists.
Dental Assistant Online Programs
Enrolling in an online dental assistant school might be a viable option for receiving your education. Just keep in mind that the classes will not be 100% 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 comfort of your Washington home or anywhere else on your laptop or tablet. For those working while going to college, online dental classes make education a lot more accessible. Some may even offer lower tuition fees than their traditional competitors. And supplementary expenses for items like books, school supplies and commuting 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 necessary to get the proper education is provided. If you have the discipline for this mode of education, you might find that attending an dental hygienist online program is the best choice for you.
Topics to Ask Dental Assistant Programs
Once you have picked the dental specialty and type of credential you want to attain, you can start the process of comparing Washington programs and schools. As we discussed at the opening of this article, a number of students begin by looking at the location and the cost of the colleges. Maybe they search for some online alternatives also. Although these are important initial factors to consider, there are a few additional questions that you need to address to the schools you are comparing in order to reach an informed decision. Toward that end, we have included a list of questions to help you with your evaluation and ultimate selection of the ideal dental hygienist college for you.
Is the Dental Assistant School Accredited? There are several good reasons why you should only choose an accredited dental assistant college. If you are going to become certified or licensed, then accreditation is a prerequisite in nearly 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 guarantee that the instruction you get is comprehensive and of the highest quality. Employers in Washington often prefer or require that job applicants are graduates of accredited schools. And last, if you are applying for financial aid or a student loan, usually they are not obtainable for non-accredited Washington programs.
Is The Proper Dental Program Offered? You can choose to train to become a dental assistant or a dental hygienist, just make sure that the Washington school you select has the program that’s right for you. For the assistant program, the alternatives are to earn either a certificate or an Associate Degree. If you want to earn a living as a hygienist, a large number of Washington dental practices require an Associate Degree in dental hygiene. Higher degrees, although not common, are offered. However, bear in mind that just because a college has a good reputation and 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 primarily interested in a dental assistant degree, naturally it would not be the ideal school for you.
Is Adequate Clinical Training Provided? Clinical or practical training is an important component of any dental training program. This applies for the online school options as well. Most dental schools have relationships with local dental practices and clinics that provide practical training for their students. It’s not only imperative that the college you enroll in provides adequate clinical hours but also provides them in the type of practice that you subsequently want to work in. For example, if you are interested in a career in pediatric dentistry, verify that the Washington school you select offers clinical rotation in a local dental office that focuses on dental services for children.
Are Internships Available? Verify if the dental colleges you are exploring sponsor internship programs. Internships are undoubtedly the most effective way to receive hands-on, practical experience in a professional Washington dental practice. They help students to transition from the theoretical to the practical. They can also help students build professional relationships in the local dentistry community. And they look good on resumes too.
Is Job Placement Support Furnished? Most graduating students of dental assistant colleges require assistance obtaining their first job. Find out if the schools you are researching have job assistance programs, and what their job placement rates are. Programs with high job placement rates are likely to have good reputations within the Washington dental profession as well as extensive networks of contacts where they can place their students for employment or internships.
Are the Classes Small? Check with the Washington schools you are interested in how large on average their classes are. The smaller classes tend to offer a more personal setting for training where students have increased access to the teachers. On the other hand, larger classes can be impersonal and provide little one-on-one instruction. If feasible, ask if you can attend a few classes at the college that you are most interested in in order to witness first hand the amount of interaction between teachers and students before enrolling.
What is the Overall Cost of the Program? Dental assistant programs can fluctuate in cost dependent on the length of the program and the amount of practical training provided. Other factors, such as the reputations of the colleges and if they are public or private also come into play. But besides the tuition there are other significant expenses 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 schools, remember to add all of the costs related to your education. The majority of schools have financial assistance offices, so be sure to find out what is available as far as loans, grants and scholarships in Washington.
Are the Classes Convenient? Before selecting a dental college, you must verify that the assistant program furnishes classes that suit your schedule. This is especially true if you continue working while acquiring your education and need to attend classes near your Washington home in the evenings or on weekends. And even if you choose an online college, you will still need to schedule your practical training classes. Also, while addressing your concerns, ask what the make-up policy is if you should need to miss any classes due to illness, work or family responsibilities.
Enroll in the Best Dental Assistant College in Washington
Picking the right dental assistant course is important if you intend to take the CDA exam or, if mandated in your state, become licensed. As you now know, there are numerous options offered 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 programs usually receive a Certificate. Dental Assistants usually require approximately one year of study before they enter the job market. When obtaining a certificate or degree you can elect to attend classes on-campus or online. Whichever mode of education or credential you decide to pursue, by asking the questions provided in this article you will be in a better position to make the right selection. And by doing so, you will be ready to begin your journey toward becoming a dental assistant in Washington.