Dental Assistant

Dental assistants are responsible for working directly with dentists while patients receive treatment. They review and maintain patients' charts, pass instruments to the dentist during procedures, sterilize instruments, make temporary crowns and impressions of teeth for study models, polish patients' teeth, and take and develop X-rays. They also assist with tasks such as scheduling appointments and ordering supplies.

A high school diploma is required. Formal training includes an average of 1200 hours of study in an approved dental assisting program, or on-the-job training and certification in radiography and expanded functions.

A dental assistant who is trained in an accredited dental assisting program receives a certificate. A dental assistant who is trained on the job may become certified in expanded duties and radiography by taking approved courses. Qualified dental assistants may receive national certification (CDA) by passing the dental assisting national board examination.

Florida has 19 accredited dental assisting programs at community colleges and technical centers.

The average cost to complete an accredited dental assisting training program is $2,000.

Private, state and federal loans and scholarships are available to qualified applicants.

Florida has a shortage of dental assistants. Local dental societies have placement services that help dentists find dental assistants.

The starting salary for a dental assistant varies by geographic region.

Benefits vary in each dental office. The most commonly offered benefits are paid vacation, paid holidays, paid sick leave, dental insurance or care, reimbursement for attending continuing education courses, medical insurance and pension plans. Other benefits may include reimbursement of membership fees, profit sharing, bonuses, life insurance, percentage of production and individual malpractice insurance.

Florida is one of the few states that offers distance education - a non-traditional method of training-for dental assisting careers. Florida has offered Independent Dental Education for Assistants (IDEA), a non-traditional dental assisting program, since 1993. Community colleges and vocational education centers from Fort Walton Beach to Miami offer the IDEA curriculum. The success of distance education is seen in the success of its graduates. Ninety-one percent of graduates from non-traditional dental assisting programs passed the Dental Assisting National Board exam. More than 100 students have graduated from IDEA since it became available in Florida. Students who graduate from distance-education programs must successfully complete the same training as students in traditional dental assisting programs. They pay the same fees as traditional students. They purchase textbooks from campus bookstores and borrow lecture and demonstration videotapes from school or local libraries. A curriculum syllabus guides distance-education students through course work. They schedule pre-clinical and clinical training on-campus or at extended campus facilities. This training maybe completed in the evening or on weekends as approved by the program administrator. All Florida students should soon have access to dental assisting distance-education programs. By the year 2001, it is expected that there will be distance-education programs for careers in dental hygiene and dental laboratory technology.

Dental aide programs provide high school students with the opportunity to get credit and training in dental assisting. After graduating from this program, students may receive advanced placement in accredited dental assisting programs. Dental aides assist dentists with a variety of operative and specialty procedures. Employment opportunities range from positions in general dental offices to specialty practices.

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