Dental Assisting

Same Team, Different Roles: Becoming a Dentist or Dental Assistant

Dental AssistingSeptember 05, 2022

If you’re interested in a career in dentistry, you may be wondering what options could be available to you. First, good for you! Dentistry is not only an important aspect of healthcare, which is directly related to overall health, it is also a career with a promising future.

In fact, according to the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job market for dental assistants is projected to continue growing at a rate judged “faster than the average” compared to other occupations, for the foreseeable future. In fact, the Bureau estimates that dental assistant jobs will grow by 11% for the period from 2020 through 2030. 

The job outlook for dentists is projected to be comparable to other professions at a rate of 8% for the same timeframe.

Becoming a Dentist 

So, what is a dental assistant, and how does it differ from a dentist? To become a dentist, you need to first attend college and obtain a baccalaureate degree, most often in a science-related program which includes various science prerequisites, such as biology and chemistry. Then, during your junior year in college, you have to take the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which is similar to the MCAT for applicants to medical school.

Finally, you must be accepted into a dentistry program. The latter is more challenging than it sounds because the competition is fierce for a carefully managed number of openings in dental schools around the country. In addition to excellent scores on the DAT, schools consider everything from undergraduate grade point average (GPA) to interviews, to recommendation letters, etc., before making a final decision. 

Once you’ve graduated from you B.A. or B.S. program and have been accepted to a dentistry program, you’ll attend dental school full-time for an additional four years. Eventually, a dental student will earn a doctorate-level degree. Various options exist, including Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS), Doctor of Dental Medicine (DDM), and Doctor of Medical Dentistry (DMD). But before you can ever fill your first cavity, you will be required to take and pass an exam for licensure in your state. To practice one of the nine dental specialties, further licensure is required. Obtaining one of these licenses involves serving a residency after school, followed by additional licensure examinations. 

Most dentists are small business owners, and, therefore, need a wide range of important skills, including leadership, organization, management, communication skills, physical stamina, and problem-solving abilities, among others.

How to Become a Dental Assistant

Needless to say, it is far simpler, and quicker, to become a dental assistant. Some states require dental assistants to attend an accredited program and pass an exam. Other states have no such requirements, essentially allowing on-the-job training to suffice. Some programs may take as little as one year to complete and may lead to a certificate or diploma. Other, more comprehensive programs, take about two years to complete and result in an associate’s degree. Not all states require dental assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified. But many do. New York is among the top five states with the highest rates of employment of dental assistants.

The American Dental Association notes that the duties of a dental assistant are among the most “comprehensive and varied” in a given dental office or clinic. Among many other tasks, dental assistants may be required to assist during procedures, provide follow-up dental care instructions to patients, teach patients about oral hygiene, help with office management, take and/or develop x-rays, take patient vitals and patient histories, and more.

If you’re looking to get started on your journey to become a dental assistant St. Paul’s School of Nursing can help!  We have dental assisting programs at our Staten Island campus. Visit our site or call us today at (855) 822-3018 to speak with an admissions advisor.