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Dental Assistant

Dental assistant photoThe Dental Assistant Program offers both a two-year Associate of Applied Science Degree and a one-year Certificate of Achievement. Completion of either program qualifies students to take the State board exam and, after passing the exam, students may practice as Registered Dental Assistants. Program completers are also eligible to take the National Certification exam, which is recognized nationwide.

A Dental Assistant is a member of a highly qualified health team who has varied duties and flexible hours. While most dental assistants work as chairside or business assistants, other career paths include lab technicians, insurance consulting, dental supply sales and teachers.

Career Outlook/Earnings Potential

  • Employment of dental assistants is expected to grow by 31 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations.
  • Employment of Dental Assistants in Michigan is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2018. An average of 400 openings for Dental Assistants is expected annually, with 220 due to growth and 180 due to replacement.
  • Nationally, the median annual salary in 2010 was about $33,470 for Dental Assistants.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Do Dental Assistants Do?

Dental assistants from Northwestern Michigan College find jobs with a variety of responsibilities. Following are examples:

  • Working chairside with dentist to provide dental treatment
  • As a preventive therapist providing treatment/patient education to all ages
  • Performing lab procedures such as making plaster study models and bleaching trays
  • Exposing dental x-rays, using computerized and traditional techniques
  • Making, placing and removing temporary fillings
  • Placing protective sealants on teeth
  • Working in dental insurance companies as insurance analysts
  • Working in sales for dental supply companies
  • Working as a dental assistant educator
  • Working as dental consultants with multiple offices
  • Working at the front desk with appointment scheduling, insurance forms, patient accounts, and computer software
  • Working as an assistant in a specialty office, such as, orthodontics or oral surgery

Current Employment Opportunities:

For information on current employment opportunities, please use the Dental Assistant Gainful Employment Information tools or visit NMC's Job-Seeking Tools page, or contact Alison Collins, Dental Assistant Program Director, at (231) 995-1250.

How to prepare for the dental assisting field:

For dental assisting, a sound background in biology and English are important. Higher levels of science can only help, but are not required. Good speaking and writing skills will be instrumental in your success, not only in college, but also on the job. While basic math skills are a must, higher levels of math are not required for this field. Good computer skills are important as new technology enters the dental field. Assistants are now using computers in the dental treatment room for patient records and taking digitized x-rays.

Traits That Successful Dental Assistants Possess:

  • Teamwork is a very big part of any dental practice. So, having the ability to work well in a team environment is a real plus
  • Manipulation of small instruments and mixing of various dental materials is a big part of the Registered Dental Assistant's and Certified Dental Assistant's duties
  • Having the ability to follow step-by-step procedures is also a prerequisite for success as a dental student
  • Successful dental assistants are genuinely interested in other people
  • Being dependable and responsible will help dental assistants excel in the field
  • They like working with their patients to improve their dental health
  • Detail-oriented individuals find dental assisting truly rewarding

Both the associate degree and certificate are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and approved by the Michigan Board of Dentistry.

Program Outcomes:

Graduates of the dental assistant program should be able to:

  • Demonstrate the skills necessary to provide a safe environment for patients and staff. This includes knowledge of OSHA requirements as well as in-depth knowledge of infection control procedures.
  • Demonstrate mastery of basic dental theory including concepts of dental anatomy, dental disease and restorative dentistry.
  • Perform chairside duties competently and proficiently. This includes a working knowledge of dental materials.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of radiation safety and a proficiency in clinical radiographic skills.
  • Demonstrate the ability to perform dental laboratory duties.
  • Possess the knowledge and skills needed to promote preventive dental care and to provide patient education regarding dental care.
  • Possess basic office skills that are applicable to the business side of dentistry including computer hardware and software skills.
  • Possess a professional and collaborative work ethic that recognizes the legal and ethical responsibility of those employed in the dental field. This includes HIPAA and patient privacy knowledge.
  • Possess effective communication skills, both written and verbal, when dealing with dental patients and the dental team.

Articulation Agreement

program requirements:

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Program Requirements

Program Contact Information:

Alison Collins, Director of Dental Assistant Program

  • (231) 995-1250
  • acollins@nmc.edu
  • Northwestern Michigan College
    1701 E. Front Street
    Traverse City, Ml 49686

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What you'll find at NMC

  • Transfer courses, two-year associate degrees and professional certificates
  • Online learning options
  • Access to BA and advanced degrees through NMC's University Center
  • Small classes, personal attention
  • Scholarship opportunities
  • Reasonable tuition
  • Excellent academic reputation
  • Dedicated faculty & staff
  • On-campus housing options
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