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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

The Path to Becoming a Dental Assistant: Why Seek Your Dental Assisting Certificate?

January 19, 2024

Becoming a Dental AssistantDental assisting is a rewarding field with many compelling advantages. Chief among these: the ability to train for and enter a rewarding career path in under a year.

If you’re ready to move forward with your dental assisting career, the next step involves getting a relevant certificate. Along the way, you will gain insight into everything from dental anatomy to preventative care and even practice management.

Keep reading to discover how to get a Dental Assisting certificate — and for details on what education may help you on your path to become a dental assistant.

Journey to Becoming a Dental Assistant

The path to becoming a dental assistant (DA) includes well-rounded training that touches on a variety of clinical and administrative concerns. Dental assisting positions typically call for some level of post-secondary education, often taking the form of a targeted certificate program. Key steps on the path to becoming a dental assistant can include:

Schooling and Education

Many DA programs take less than one year to complete. During that time, you will be exposed to a wide range of essential concepts, including the foundations of dental anatomy and practice management, plus how these play into preventative and specialty care.

As you seek the right school, look for a location that will provide a well-rounded education and is also highly reputable.  Upon successful completion of the program, you will earn your Certificate of Completion and be well prepared for entry level dental assisting jobs.

Training and Hands-On Experience

Comprehensive coursework is important, but nothing prepares you for the unique challenges of dental assisting quite like being immersed in real-world situations that force you to apply your newfound knowledge. Ideally, your Dental Assisting certificate program will provide plenty of opportunities to apply skills in laboratory and clinical settings. Finally, completing an externship will improve your working knowledge while further enhancing your confidence in your DA skills.

SJVC’s Dental Assisting Certificate Program

As an aspiring dental assistant, you could benefit greatly from enrolling in SJVC’s certificate program, which lasts 45 weeks and is available at multiple campuses. This comprehensive program touches on several of the profession’s most critical roles and responsibilities, as outlined below:

Learn How to Manage Patient Care

Dental assistants interact closely with patients, who look to these supportive professionals for insight and empathy. In this capacity, among the DA’s core responsibilities are comforting and informing patients.

The former means making reception as hospitable as possible while maintaining a warm and welcoming demeanor throughout the patient’s visit. Additionally, DAs inform patients about procedures and offer insight into preventative strategies.

Empathy and friendly communication must be taught and practiced, just like any other professional skill. These qualities are highlighted in detail during a variety of SJVC Dental Assisting courses and can also be developed while completing clinical requirements or participating in externships.

Develop Dental Office Skills

Dental assisting involves a solid administrative component. Also known as practice management, a variety of clerical and office-based tasks contribute to the general efficiency and profitability of the clinic. Typical administrative duties include:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Answering phones and emails
  • Handling dental charts

These responsibilities are covered in detail within a variety of dental assisting courses and can also be learned while fulfilling extramural professional requirements. Upon completing the certificate program, you will be equipped with the full range of skills to take on strictly administrative roles, if preferred.

Gain Skills in Laboratory Duties

Laboratory opportunities provide powerful preparation for the realities of modern dental practice. These settings draw on the power of models known as typodonts, which make it possible to safely practice fundamental techniques without placing actual patients at risk. The lab provides a wealth of learning opportunities within SJVC’s program and is where aspiring DAs gain confidence and actionable insights.

A Comprehensive Learning Program

Comprehensive Dental Assisting programs cover the full range of skills and knowledge that today’s dental assistants are expected to demonstrate. Graduates should emerge with a thorough grasp of the field from a clinical perspective and within the purview of practice management.

Depending on where a program is based, a Dental Assisting certificate could play a valuable role in preparing aspiring DAs to take and pass the Dental Board of California (DBC) Examination for state licensure as a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)[1] .*

*San Joaquin Valley College prepares students to take appropriate certification and licensure exams related to their individual majors. The College does not guarantee students will successfully pass these exams or be certified or licensed as a result of completing the program.

Get Oriented to Dentistry

Dental assistants need to understand how the dental practice functions on a day-to-day basis. This means gaining insight into the unique workflow of these clinics — and how the contributions of many professionals promote the success of the entire dental team. Introductory classes such as Orientation to Dentistry set a strong foundation, complete with impactful insights facilitated by simulated laboratory settings.

Orientation continues with observations completed in a range of relevant settings. This allows students to compare how various types of practices function.

Learn About Dental Anatomy

A thorough understanding of dental anatomy is a must for any professional who works in a clinic — including dental assistants, who cannot effectively support dentists and hygienists unless they understand how to study dental anatomy and how to use dental terminology.

Key components of dental anatomy covered during a Dental Assisting program include:

  • Parts of the tooth and the function of each component: Essentials touched on include the crown, enamel, root, dentin and pulp.
  • Types of teeth, including their universal numbers and their location in the mouth.
  • Supporting structures known as the periodontium: These include the gingiva, periodontal ligament and cementum.

Gain Knowledge in Preventative Dentistry

Regular dental checkups help patients maintain optimal oral health. Dental assistants do their part by instructing patients on best practices. This includes regular brushing and flossing but may also delve into dietary concerns or other behaviors that might place patients at risk for dental cavities, enamel loss or gingivitis.

By the time they complete certificate programs, aspiring DAs should be able to answer the crucial question: What is preventative dental care? Additionally, DAs should recognize their role in promoting and maintaining optimal oral health.

Obtain Core Dental Assisting Skills and Strategies

Juggling patient care, team responsibilities and other administrative duties can feel like a tall order, but adequately trained DAs understand the tools and techniques to get it all done. This means gaining insight into the procedures and drug therapies used to address specific concerns or generally improve oral health. DAs must also be thoroughly familiar with necessary instruments and understand how to sterilize and properly place them.

Connecting Skills to Your Field

There is no denying the value of foundational knowledge of anatomy and preventative care, but DAs must also put this understanding into action. Dental Assisting programs provide powerful preparation by giving aspiring DAs plenty of opportunities to develop critical skills in laboratory and real-world settings.

This begins with extensively using typodonts and mannequins but eventually extends to clinical patients. Strict supervision is provided every step of the way, along with plenty of targeted feedback and support.

Clinical Observations and Experiences

Upon completing relevant coursework, future DAs get numerous chances to put their newfound skills into action. Pre-clinical experiences are a core part of this process, as are clinical observations within relevant facilities. This is where DAs discover how key concepts and skills are applied within specialties such as:

  • Pediatric care
  • Orthodontics
  • Periodontics
  • Oral surgery
  • Prosthodontics
  • Restorative dentistry

Finding an Externship

Experiential learning plays heavily into long-term dental assisting success. Such experience is best obtained through a blend of lab and clinical experiences and, eventually, targeted externships.

These valuable work experiences are made possible through strategic partnerships between DA programs and dental employers. These programs help future DAs apply recently gained academic insights. They also get the unique opportunity to observe talented professionals as they interact with patients — and even to build meaningful relationships along the way.

Some externships can lead directly to DA jobs, but these always look amazing on a resume. Dental Assisting programs can help you find and excel in relevant externships — and help you draw on these experiences to boost your DA career.

Take the Next Step in Your Dental Assisting Career

If you feel called to dental assisting, it’s time to take the next step: getting your certificate. Look to SJVC for comprehensive training and plenty of support along the way.

Our Dental Assisting program allows you to earn your Certificate of Completion in Dental Assisting in just 45 weeks while preparing you for years of success in a gratifying career field.

Through a strategic mix of classroom instruction and hands-on experience, you will have the opportunity to gain the full range of skills needed to support patients and entire dental teams. Our program also prepares you to take the  Dental Board of California Examination for state licensure and get your career off to a strong start. Reach out today to learn more.

San Joaquin Valley College is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC), 1080 Marina Village Parkway, Suite 500, Alameda, CA 94501, (510) 748-9001.

The WSCUC is an institutional accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education.


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