Great dental professionals agree that education is key when becoming a competent, valued dental healthcare provider. Choosing the right educational program will not only improve your skill set, but it will increase job prospects and prepare you for the everyday realities of office work. Especially, if you have no prior experience as a Dental Assistant. Although Washington State does not currently hold a formal dental assistant training program requirement, registration as a dental assistant is still required. If you want to jumpstart your career, you should choose a reputable and accredited dental assisting school. One that provides a comprehensive, high-quality education that is affordable and time-efficient. The best program will be led by experienced, qualified instructors who are dentists and certified dental assistants (CDAs). They will prepare you for the coursework and exams you need to take to be certified as a registered dental assistant (RDA) in the state of Washington.
The Washington State Dental Quality Commission, a board representing the Washington State Health Department, provides a list of requirements and allowable duties for RDAs. The completion of a CPR and basic life support (CPR/BLS) certification program and seven hours of HIV/AIDS training and coursework are required in order to work as an RDA. The best dental assisting program will ensure that you meet all of Washington’s dental assistant registration requirements and allow you to perform all the duties necessary to do your job well. Many dentists prefer to hire assistants who have been trained to properly operate X-ray equipment. It’s important to look for a program that includes radiology training in processing film, operating X-ray equipment, and radiation protection to meet the standards of the Washington State Dental Quality Commission. The curriculum should also cover assisting with operative dentistry and prosthodontics. Topics in dental specialties, including cosmetic dentistry, that are relevant to modern oral aesthetics are important as well. A quality training program will also teach you how to handle office and administrative work, and prepare you for job interviews.
Once you complete your registered dental assistant training, you may also choose to continue your education. Taking supplemental coursework and seeking out additional certifications to enhance your skill set is highly recommended!
Everything You Need to Know About Dental Assisting
What Is a Dental Assistant?
A Dental assistant provides day-to-day support to the dentist they are under direct supervision. They perform clinical tasks like sterilizing equipment, preparing patients for treatment, and assisting dentists during procedures. They may also perform clerical duties such as scheduling appointments and maintaining and updating medical records.
Most Dental assistants work in traditional dental offices. Others work with dentists at government-funded community clinics, or they assist physicians who treat special-needs patients. There are currently just under 9,500 dental assistants working in Washington State.
What Is the Role of a Dental Assistant?
In Washington State, dental assistants perform a variety of allowed clinical tasks, all under close supervision, at the discretion of the dentist they work with. Depending on their level of certification, RDAs do everything from recording a patient’s medical history to taking impressions and digital scans of a patient’s teeth and jaw. Different offices may require different skill sets from their hired RDAs. Solo practices may need assistants who are generalists, while group practices may hire a few assistants who do specialized work.
With proper certification and under an appropriate degree of supervision, dental assistants may engage in the following tasks:
- Positioning the dental chair to enhance the patient’s comfort
- Providing instruments to dentists as directed
- Applying suction to dry a patient’s mouth
- Counseling patients about oral hygiene
- Exposing and processing radiographs under the dentist’s supervision
- Keeping records of dental treatments
- Scheduling appointments
- Managing patient billing and payment processing
- Providing fluoride treatments
- Delivering oral sedatives and placing topical anesthetics
- Assisting in providing nitrous oxide analgesia as directed by the supervising dentist
- Placing a temporary filling as directed by the dentist
- Placing or removing orthodontic separators
- Selecting and adjusting orthodontic bands
- Preparing the surface of teeth for bonding orthodontic appliances
The Washington State Legislature designates the full scope of allowable supportive services registered dental assistants may perform in WAC 246-817-520.
Average Salary of a Dental Assistant in Washington State
Most dental assistants are well compensated, especially in Washington State. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a dental assistant in Washington is $46,690 per year. Dental assistants who work full-time for at least 36 hours per week typically receive health insurance and paid time off as part of their salary.
According to www.salary.com, as of January 26, 2023, the salary range for RDAs in Washington State ranges from $38,356 to $57,651, with most professionals making around $48,290.
Here’s the salary.com breakdown of the salary range for RDAs in Washington:
- Lower 10th Percentile: $38,356
- 25th Percentile:$43,090
- 50th Percentile:$48,290
- 75th Percentile: $53,190
- 90th Percentile:$57,651
Dental assistants who remain in their profession over the course of their careers will see salary increases over time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that newly hired dental assistants may make as little as $17 per hour, while DAs with over 20 years of experience make closer to $30 per hour. Translating to about $61,470 per year.
Job Outlook for Washington Dental Assistants
Washington State as a whole, and specifically the Seattle area, has a strong economy that continues to show growth. Residents are more likely to be able to afford out-of-pocket payments for cosmetic and preventative dental care than in other areas throughout the U.S. And the demand for dental assisting jobs is high. Dental assistants in Washington typically draw yearly salaries that are 9% higher than the national average of $42,310. Salaries for DAs in the area range from $41,070 in Yakima to $48,000 in Walla Walla and Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue. Nearly 8,000 dental assistants are employed in Washington’s towns and metropolitan areas. Currently, there are about 1,800 new job openings for dental assistants every year. Many experts project that the number of available jobs for dental assistants in Washington could increase by up to 20% by 2028.
What Is the Difference Between Dental Assistant and Dental Hygienist?
If you are new to the field of dentistry, you may wonder how being a dental assistant differs from being a dental hygienist. Both roles support dentists while helping patients maintain and improve their oral health. Some on-the-job tasks, such as checking blood pressure, applying sealants, and performing facebow transfers, may overlap, but each professional role necessitates different training and has distinct day-to-day responsibilities.
What is a Dental Hygienist?
A dental hygienist examines patients for signs of oral diseases, cleans teeth, and educates patients on oral health and hygiene. Because they are required to obtain credentials from a dental hygiene program that’s been accredited through the American Dental Association, a more in-depth patient responsibility is allowed. They typically require less supervision than dental assistants, have a higher degree of accountability, and provide a more diagnostic level of care.
What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?
A dental hygienist is responsible for preparing the dental patient for their exam with the dentist. It is often their duty to examine patients for signs of oral diseases and administer preventive care. Dental hygienists use several advanced tools, including lasers and X-ray machines, on the job. While at work some common, everyday responsibilities for dental hygienists may include the following:
- Removing stains, plaque, and tartar from teeth
- Taking and developing dental X-rays
- Assessing patients’ teeth, gums, and soft tissues and reporting findings to the dentist
- Recording patient treatment plans
- Instructing patients about the proper way to brush and floss
- Examining a patient’s neck and head
- Inspecting and measuring periodontal pockets without making a diagnosis
- Taking photographs of the inside and outside of a patient’s mouth
- Scraping and removing growths from soft tissue
- Placing, carving, contouring, and adjusting a dental restoration into a cavity prepared by the dentist
- Scaling subgingival and supragingival tissue
- Root planing
- Providing indirect temporary restorations, such as non-permanent crowns
- Placing a temporary filling as directed by the dentist
- Removing excess cement from temporary or permanent dental work, including crowns, bridges, and orthodontic bands
The acts allowed while working as a dental hygiene professional are listed in full in WAC 246-817-550.
Why Should You Consider Becoming a Dental Assistant Instead of a Dental Hygienist?
If you want to become a dental health professional, you might be thinking about which specialty is best for you. Becoming a dental assistant requires less up-front commitment and cost. With no required degree or certification, learning on the job may help ensure that you want to work in this field long-term; before investing in educational training for a few thousand dollars, you can become a dental assistant in just a short 10 weeks.
In Washington State, training to be a dental assistant is less expensive and time-consuming than training to be a dental hygienist. To become a dental hygienist, you will need to complete at least a two-year associate degree program. This may cost anywhere from $5,000 to over $42,000. And although starting salaries for dental hygienists are higher, you must attend school full-time for at least 20 months before you can work in a dentist’s office. Meaning you will have invested thousands of dollars before you know for certain you will enjoy your career path. In theory, going to work as a dental assistant while continuing your education to increase your skill level and earning potential is the more responsible choice.
What About Dental Technicians? Is It a Good Alternative?
Training to become a dental technician is another career option in the dental healthcare field. Dental assistant, dental hygienist, and dental technician are all career paths vital to supporting oral health. But they vary in scope and have different long-term prospects. Dental technicians typically work in a lab or hospital setting and have little direct contact with patients. They create, fit, and repair dental prosthetics, including crowns, implants, bridges, and molds of a patient’s oral cavity. Depending on their skill level and their job requirements, a dental technician may work with a dentist or clinical dental technician– a dental technician who has received additional certifications to work directly with patients.
With the advancement of technology and artificial intelligence, the job responsibilities of dental technicians are likely to be replaced by machines in the coming years. Because dental technicians create prosthetics using information about a patient’s mouth and condition without needing to interact with the patient directly, their jobs are more likely to be altered or replaced by AI technology in the future. For instance, if a mold can be created from a digital scan of a patient’s mouth, it may also be possible for machines, including 3D printers, to create and assemble a prosthetic using that information.
On the other hand, dental assistants work directly with patients in a dental office. They are required to communicate with patients, dentists, and other team members in person. Because a dental assistant’s job requires the human traits of compassion and discernment, it’s less likely that the need for human interaction will change in a clinical setting. AI technology and robotic replacement are not a possible threat to the careers of dental assistants.
Most dental technicians complete a two-year associate’s degree or certificate program, and their starting salary is comparable to or less than the starting salary for DAs.
Why Should You Attend Our Dental Assisting School in Vancouver, WA?
Vancouver Dental Assisting School will fully prepare you for your career as a dental assistant in just ten weeks! Our comprehensive 10-week accelerated dental assisting program is faster, less expensive, and more intensive than a year-long lecture-based course. It combines hands-on clinical training with real patients in a modern, state-of-the-art dental office as well as classroom. The training environment consists of five, fully equipped rooms that supply all the instrumentation needed to provide a complete educational experience. Instructors teach small groups of up to 15 people per session so that every student receives the individual attention they need for success. You will gain valuable hands-on experience, learn to be a team player, and become a highly trained and sought-after professional. All within a very short time. Best of all, you can start working as soon as you complete the program.
in Vancouver Dental Assisting School is registered with the State of Washington. It is also certified and licensed by the State of Washington Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board to fulfill all requirements for a dental training program. When you choose to learn with us, you will be choosing to build a strong foundation for success as an RDA. Continuing education and professional advancement in a growing field with plenty of opportunities will be at your fingertips.
Upon enrollment, you will work with Dr. Herma Ranola, an experienced dentist and educator. Dr. Ranola enjoys creating the ideal learning environment for students and stays up-to-date with the latest trends in dentistry. Vancouver Dental Assisting School currently accepts students from both Washington and Oregon. With competitive tuition fees, financial aid, and affordable in-house payment plans, our school offers the best and most attractive dental assisting program in Vancouver, Washington. You can choose from in-person and online dental assisting training programs to jump-start your career at the best dental assisting program in Washington State.
As a dental assistant, you will do more than care for people’s dental health. You will improve their lives! Contact Vancouver Dental Assisting School today to learn more.