Dental assisting is a diverse, demanding and comprehensive profession, one that is integral to the overall efficiency, effectiveness and quality of oral care. Although specific responsibilities may vary due to state regulations, dental assistants may perform a range of tasks, according to the American Dental Association, including:
- Taking dental x-rays
- Assisting a dentist during treatment procedures
- Providing oral hygiene advice and strategies to patients
- Performing administrative, office-focused tasks such as scheduling appointments
- Sterilizing dental equipment and instruments
A rapidly growing field, dental assisting offers prospective students the opportunity to pursue a challenging, flexible occupation that not only offers solid earning potential, but personal satisfaction as well.
Dental assisting training in Virginia
The Virginia Board of Dentistry sets education requirements to work as a dental assistant in the state. Specific requirements vary by position, including Dental Assistant I and Dental Assistant II.
Dental Assistant I. There are no educational or training requirements for Dental Assistant I positions. They may perform a range of basic, supportive dental procedures under the supervision and direction of licensed dentists.
Dental Assistant II. To qualify as Dental Assistant II, individuals must be certified by the Dental Assisting Nursing Board, pass successfully the board-approved functions requirement from Commission on Dental Accreditation, and register with the Virginia Board of Dentistry.
For prospective dental assistants in Virginia, there are three educational options: certificate, diploma and associate degree programs. Depending on professional goals, dental assistants may pursue employment with a high school degree and certificate in dental assisting.
However, many employers prefer trained dental assistants, including those who have completed the requirements to serve as Expanded Function Dental Assistants (EFDA), which allows them to complete some tasks independently of a supervising dentist.
While certificate, diploma and associate degree programs are all traditionally designed to prepare graduates to take the Dental Assisting Nursing Board examinations, associate degree programs provide advanced training that could qualify graduates for additional career opportunities and certifications.
Currently, the Commission on Dental Accreditation has approved 11 dental assisting programs in Virginia, including Germanna Community College in Locust Grove, Thomas Nelson Community College in Hampton, Old Dominion University in Norfolk and more.
Dental Assisting Nursing Board Certifications
The Dental Assisting Nursing Board is the national certifying agency for dental assistants. Today, more than 36,000 dental assistants hold DANB certification. Prospective students in Virginia can pursue several DANB certifications, including:
- Certified Dental Assistant. Topics include general chairside assistance, infection control and radiation health and safety.
- Certified Orthodontic Assistant. Topics include infection control and orthodontic assisting.
- Certified Preventative Functions Dental Assistant. Topics include sealants, coronal polishing, topical anesthetic, and topical fluoride.
- Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant. Topics include impressions, temporaries, isolation, anatomy, morphology and physiology, and restorative functions.
Dental assisting salaries and employment outlook in Virginia
In 2013, the national average salary for dental assistants was $35,640, with the top ten percent of earners taking home at least $48,000, according to employment information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, dental assistants in Virginia outpaced the national average in 2013, earning an annual salary of $36,140.
Dental assisting pay varies by location in the state and three major metropolitan areas had higher than national average salaries in 2013, including Richmond, Harrisonburg and Roanoke. Below is a list of 2013 average salaries for dental assistants in Virginia by metropolitan area:
- Richmond: $37,830
- Harrisonburg: $36,590
- Roanoke: $36,410
- Charlottesville: $35,470
- Winchester: $34,140
- Blacksburg, Christiansburg, Radford: $32,760
- Lynchburg: $32,640
- Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News: $30,660
- Danville: $30,590
On the employment outlook front, dental assisting is a rapidly expanding field, expected to grow by 25 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, dental assistants in Virginia have a much more robust job market, one that is projected to grow by more than 37 percent between 2012 and 2022. That growth equates to approximately 3,150 new positions at an average of approximately 490 new jobs per year.
A healthy job market, coupled with solid earning potential should make dental assisting an attractive option to prospective students in Virginia.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES, Dental Assistants, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes319091.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, OES, Virginia, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_va.htm
Bureau of Labor Statistics, OOH, Dental Assistants, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm#tab-4
Commission on Dental Accreditation, Virginia, http://www.ada.org/en/coda/find-a-program/search-dental-programs/allied-programs
Dental Assisting National Board, Inc., Certification Requirements, http://www.danb.org/Become-Certified/Exams-and-Certifications/Exam-Eligibility-Requirements.aspx
Projections Central, projectionscentral.com
Virginia Board of Dentistry, https://www.dhp.virginia.gov/dentistry/dentistry_forms.htm