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Dental Assistant

Qualifications

You can follow two different paths to a dental assistant career. Now let's make it even more confusing: Throw in the fact that there is no nationwide certification requirement, and most states don't list any minimum criteria for working as an entry-level dental assistant. In fact, a few states allow dental assistants to perform any duties the dentist assigns to them. Scratching your head yet? Let's take a look at your options.

Option #1: You can begin your preparation in high school by taking chemistry, biology, and health courses. An office practices course would also be helpful. Once you graduate with a high school diploma or equivalent, you can complete an approved dental assisting program. Keep in mind, though, that some programs require computer and/or science course completion first. Once you get into the dental assisting program, you'll combine extensive classroom time with lab work and practical skill instruction.

After you complete the dental assisting program, you can pass the Certified Dental Assistant exam, recognized or required in at least 37 states. You'll also need current CPR certification. Hot tip: Look for a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). CODA does not generally approve the few-months-long programs offered by private vocational schools.

Option #2: Work full-time for two years as an entry-level dental assistant (or four years as a part-time assistant). Complete your CPR certification as well. At that point, you're eligible to sit for the Certified Dental Assistant Exam.

Additional certifications: Your state's dental board may require you to obtain a special license to perform advanced dental assistant functions. You might also need to complete continuing education courses to maintain your license. If you plan to perform dental office x-rays, many states will also require you to complete a state-approved radiology course. However, here's a real head-scratcher: 12 states will let you shoot the x-rays with no formal education at all. Make it easy on yourself: Contact your state's dental board before you choose the path to your dental assistant career.

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