Being a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) can open many professional growth opportunities, whether you want to perform expanded functions, work in a specialty practice, or become an educator. It can also open opportunities to advance into new roles in dentistry. Many dental assistants love the profession and the variety it brings but aspire to take on a new challenge and become hygienists. Having the CDA credential behind your name can help you make the transition.
Here are a few reasons why CDAs can make excellent dental hygienists.
Established clinical skills
Most CDAs have worked in the profession for several years and are already comfortable with the inner workings of a dental office. They are familiar with common procedures and excel at patient care. CDA certification requires a certain level of competency in many areas of dentistry, including anatomy, infection control, and radiography. Many CDAs also perform expanded functions, meaning they have the knowledge to perform tasks such as taking impressions, applying fluoride, and placing sealants. This knowledge provides a strong foundation for dental assistants who want to continue their training in hygiene.
“Dental hygiene is different when you’re the provider [instead of the assistant],” says dental hygienist Al-Isha Tisdale-Jones, RDH, M.S., B.S., who was a dental assistant for 13 years. “However, the transition was easy in the sense of having a dental foundation.”
Committed to learning
Maintaining certification requires completing continuing education courses every year to ensure certificants are up to date on the latest dental research, technology, and approaches to patient care. While Certified Dental Assistants possess a high level of dentistry knowledge, they always strive to learn more. This commitment to ongoing learning suits you well if you’re a CDA pursuing a dental hygiene career. Requirements can differ based on the state, but generally, becoming a licensed hygienist involves completing an accredited hygiene program and passing national and state board exams.
“I wanted to be a hygienist because I’m always seeking independence,” shares Tisdale-Jones about why she sought out a new career challenge. “After being a CDA and RDA, I felt as though I had maximized my skills.”
Effective patient communication
Dental hygienists often work one-on-one with patients to provide preventive dental care, reviewing their oral and overall health history, screening for issues in the mouth, answering questions, and offering guidance on at-home care. While dental assistants don’t perform all of these tasks, they know how to communicate effectively — a skill that directly translates to work as a hygienist. Some key aspects of a dental assistant’s job are comforting patients, explaining procedures, and answering their questions. To fulfill continuing education requirements, CDAs may also take courses that hone their communication skills — such as working with children or patients with disabilities.
“Being a CDA helped me with understanding how to implement chairside mannerisms and providing optimal treatment,” says Tisdale-Jones.