How to take your dental assisting career to the next level

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Dental assisting is a fast-growing profession, and this is exciting! For motivated dental assistants, there are many opportunities to advance — and to earn more income, plus enjoy more personal and professional benefits, in the process.

What are some of the best ways for dental assistants to grow in their career? See the list below.

Enroll in a formal dental assisting educational program.

First and foremost, knowledge is the key to success as a dental assistant. To perform at their highest level, dental assistants must recognize the importance of education and seek out opportunities to learn. One way to do this is to attend a formal dental assisting educational program. While it’s not required that dental assistants graduate from such a program before entering the profession, many dental assistants do opt to enroll, at all stages of their career.

How can a dental assistant select the best school for them? The first step is to research state requirements to determine what education is required in your state. There are a few types of dental assisting programs, including those that are:

Learn more: How to pick a dental assistant school

Complete continuing education.

Whether they complete a formal dental assistant program or not, it’s essential for dental assistants to keep a finger on the pulse of the latest dental healthcare news and information. There’s always so much to know about dental terminology, protocols and procedures, and the industry is ever-evolving — particularly in the areas of technology and dental infection prevention and control.

Through completing continuing education (CE), dental assistants can make more valuable contributions to the dental practice and provide the best patient care. There are many ways to earn CE — and many options are online, such as those available through the DALE Foundation, DANB’s official affiliate.

Earn DANB certification.

Many dental assistants — over 37,000 and counting — also take their career to the next level by way of earning and maintaining DANB certification. Earning and maintaining DANB certification is a great source of pride and a sign of commitment to lifelong learning. Dental assistants who pursue DANB certification are often viewed as leaders in the dental office by their colleagues, supervisors and patients.

There are countless more benefits to holding DANB certification, such as an elevated income and overall career satisfaction. Consider that according to DANB’s most recent Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, DANB certificants earn $4 more per hour than dental assistants who are not certified. Plus, CDA certificants also reported high or very high job satisfaction (65%), compared with those who are not certified (59%).

Earning and maintaining DANB certification can help a dental assistant advance in their career — since it can help with qualifying for performing expanding functions and additional duties where allowed. Through holding DANB certification, dental assistants can move into other roles in the dental office where they work, or find the right practice for them. In fact, many employers prefer to hire job candidates with DANB certification, and recruiters often seek out DANB certificants to fill dental assisting positions.

Expand your duties in the dental office.

Another way for dental assistants to advance in their careers is through taking on more duties in the dental office as their state allows. These duties can include applying sealants, taking impressions, performing coronal polishing, applying topical anesthetic or applying topical fluoride, to name a few.

For dental assistants whose goal is to be able to perform expanded functions, the first step is to explore their state requirements. Dental assistants who are interested in becoming EFDAs also might consider earning DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification — since this is often one of the steps to be able to perform expanded functions.

If you’re preparing for an exam that covers expanded functions or if you’re looking to brush up on your knowledge, the DALE Foundation’s EFDA Practice Test offers more than 500 practice questions that cover a variety of expanded functions topics, including coronal polishing, sealants, topical fluoride, restorative functions and more.

Ask about cross-training in the dental office.

Beyond performing expanded functions, dental assistants may also be interested in exploring other areas that could be a strong fit for someone with a dental assisting background. For example, some assistants choose to transition into working in office management. Those who are interested in learning more might consider asking about cross-training on the front desk.

If this is your goal, consider the DALE Foundation’s dental office management courses. These courses cover important dental office management topics and also are one of the requirements for earning Fellowship through the American Association of Dental Office Management (AADOM). Learn more about AADOM Fellowship (FAADOM).

Another area that dental assistants can grow into is in infection control — which has become more important than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sterilization and disinfection duties are often delegated to dental assistants in the practice, with some assistants even serving as the practice’s infection control coordinator.

Those dental assistants whose sights are set on a bigger role in infection control should talk with their employer about any opportunities to advance in this critical area. One option to help you reach this goal is to explore the OSAP-DALE Foundation Dental Infection Prevention and Control Certificate Program™, which is intended for everyone in dentistry or anyone who wants to learn more about dental infection prevention and control.​

Learn more about how DANB and the DALE Foundation can take a dental assistant’s career to the next level.