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What Is Taught at Dental Assisting Schools?

Dec 09, 2008

Dental assistants just hand the dentist his or her tools, right? Not so. There's so much more to this field, and, if you're looking for a solid career in the growing dental industry, you’ll need to know it. Here's a sneak peek at what you can expect to learn in dental assisting schools.

Job-specific knowledge is the meat of any dental assisting program, and you can expect to spend most of your time in these courses, which give you the knowledge you'll need to work day-in and day-out. For example, students will learn the basics of dental anatomy as well as pathology, or the diagnosis of diseases of the teeth and jaws. Laboratory procedures are also taught. Students might also take more specialized courses, such as orthodontics, pediatric dentistry, or maxillofacial surgery.

Job-specific courses found in the curriculum of dental assisting schools include:

  • The use of dental equipment
  • The creation of tooth impressions
  • The application of oral evacuation (the use of tools to suction excess moisture from the mouth during a procedure).
  • Dental radiology (how to position the patient and film for a clear x-ray image as well as how to handle and develop the films).

Dental assistant students also learn how to work efficiently with dentists. For example, a course in four-handed dentistry allows the assistant to work on the patient at the same time the dentist is performing a procedure. The emphasis in this course is on positioning tools to allow the most efficient and the most comfortable working arrangement.

Dental assisting schools also teach another must-have skill set: chairside procedures. Think of this course as the dental assistant's equivalent of bedside manner. Students learn how to interact with patients. Although this sounds like a no-brainer topic, the proper chairside manner can go a long way toward calming a jittery patient and developing a dedicated client. In addition, this course typically covers equipment set up and instrument handling.

In addition, many programs offer courses on dental office management and administrative duties. It allows students to learn effective techniques for managing a busy dental practice. The course might include instruction on how to schedule appointments, maintain client records, and order supplies. Students might even learn basic bookkeeping skills, an ability that will be invaluable if you intend to work for a smaller dental practice.

General knowledge

Along with the job-specific knowledge you'll learn, you'll also pick up a number of skills that will help you become better at the job. For example, the program should teach effective oral and written communications skills as well as critical thinking. Why do you need these, you ask? These are the skills that will allow you to think on your feet and make reasoned decisions. Employees who are adept at critical thinking and communications are extremely marketable in any job, in any industry. In fact, these skills will help you throughout your career.


Many programs require students to do an internship for a specific period of time. It can be as short as 2 months or as long as 6 months. This is an ideal way to make the transition from student to dental professional.

When you've graduated from the program, you will be eligible to take the Dental Assisting National Board Exam (DANB). The test certifies the student has the skills and knowledge to meet the Board's national standards. In addition, some states also require dental assisting graduates to pass a licensing exam.

Remember that no matter what you learn in dental assisting schools you'll still need at least some on-the-job training. During this time you'll learn about the particular equipment and office procedures used in the practice. In addition, you can expect to learn about working with each dentist. For example, one dentist might prefer the equipment to be laid out differently than another. With this know-how you can become a more efficient—and more valuable—team member.

Don't wait any longer to take control of your career and your life. Check out a qualified dental assisting program today.

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