Educator shares SkillsUSA dental assisting experiences

Dental assisting instructor Beth Ladd poses for a photo in a dental lab

For many students, from middle school through college, technical education is an invaluable step in their ultimate career path. With chapters across the country, SkillsUSA is a nonprofit organization that seeks to help students — including those enrolled in dental assisting programs — further prepare for entering the workforce by developing their skills in classroom and workplace settings.

Competitions are among the valuable opportunities SkillsUSA provides students. Competitions held at the local, state, and national levels allow students to show off the skills they’ve worked hard to develop in the classroom.

Dental assisting students compete in a variety of events, including chairside assisting; preparation of dental materials; infection control; and emergency, laboratory, and office procedures. Competitions are judged based on students’ demonstrated competency in a variety of skills critical to their area of study. For dental assisting, that includes administrative, clinical, and laboratorial skills.

“Simply put, it is all about opportunity and opening doors for students, and that is what SkillsUSA offers,” says Beth Ladd, CDA, EFDA, B.A., a dental assisting instructor at the Center for Technology, Essex.

Ladd, who has taught at the Essex Junction, Vermont, school for over 20 years, has sent students to compete in SkillsUSA competitions since 2003.

“We were hooked on competing at the national level when we took our first student to the competition in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2003 and we placed third in the dental assisting competition and won a bronze medal,” says Ladd.

Practice, practice, practice

But getting to those national competitions requires a lot of hard work for Ladd and her students. It starts with the state competition in Vermont, held each spring.

“Dental assisting students who achieve high marks on their practical midterm exam in our program are given the opportunity to compete in the Vermont SkillsUSA dental assisting competition. We practice, practice, and practice the competition skills in our clinic to prepare,” explains Ladd.

She adds: “It is obvious that the students who take the competition seriously and are personally invested in preparing rise to the top as serious contenders at the state-level competition.”

State contest winners at both the high school and college levels qualify for the SkillsUSA Championships, a national competition held in June each year. In 2022, over 5,000 students qualified to compete in 108 events. In the dental assisting category, one of Ladd’s high school students not only qualified for the SkillsUSA Championships but also earned a bronze medal in the competition.

“It is the best feeling in the world to witness the look on your student’s face when they medal at the SkillsUSA national competition, and the student has the opportunity to go up on stage, in front of thousands of people, to receive their medal,” shares Ladd. “It is difficult to put into words, but it is amazing.”

While it’s rewarding to watch her students become SkillsUSA medalists, it’s not what drives Ladd’s passion for teaching. “Success isn’t always defined as achieving great things, but just doing what you love,” she says. Finding this passion often helps Ladd’s students succeed in the classroom when they’ve previously struggled.

“For many high school students, this is the first time they have seen success academically because they are engaged in an area of high interest and are learning something they have a passion for,” explains Ladd.

She adds: “There are so many success stories, and that is why I continue educating.”