You might say that Laura Daugherty’s family has really “sunk their teeth” into the health care industry. She and her daughter are both registered dental assistants, and her cousin is a registered nurse. In 2017, Daugherty joined Summit College as a dental instructor in the school’s allied health department where she shares her expertise with prospective dental assistants.
“I love teaching, and I like that the staff is very friendly and professional,” she says. The native Californian has been teaching for 20 years and believes Summit is a good fit for her. Daugherty enjoys teaching smaller classes so that she can give each student personalized attention in the classroom. That is especially important because her students come from many walks of life. Many are recent high school graduates, but others are single mothers seeking new careers or even the newly retired who are looking to begin a “second act” in their work life.
“Our goal is to expose students to all aspects of a dental practice, and our curriculum reflects this,” Daugherty says. Regardless of a student’s background, the dental assisting curriculum is geared toward providing him or her with the necessary training to pursue an entry-level position in the dental industry. “The exciting thing about the Summit College program is that students will gain many valuable skills they need to work either in general dentistry, for an oral surgeon or at an orthodontist’s office.”
Daugherty’s industry experience as a dental assistant helps her in the classroom because she has performed the tasks students must perfect once they’re out in the field. During the 30-week Summit College dental assisting program, Daugherty teaches students through both standard textbook methods as well as hands-on practice that is purposefully repetitive to ensure mastery of critical skills. For example, when they practice taking x-rays and impressions, they are also responsible for sterilizing dental instruments, what they do and how they are used.
Noting that dental assisting is a career that is projected to grow “much faster than average” for all other occupations now through 2026, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) endorses the increasing need for dental assistants. According to the BLS, the need is partially due to an aging baby-boom population who keep more of their original teeth than previous generations did. The need to maintain and treat those teeth will increase the need for professional dental care.
If you think you may be interested in becoming a dental assistant, Daugherty recommends Summit College’s program. Students will hone their craft at the college’s fully functional, state-of-the-art dental laboratory. She adds, “Summit College is extremely caring toward its students.”
Here’s what you need to know about the dental assisting profession and Summit College’s nine-month program:
What’s the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?
A dental assistant works primarily above the gum line and interacts with more patients during the day. A dental hygienist, on the other hand, may spend up to one-and-one-half hours with a single patient. Daugherty says those who thrive on working in a fast-paced environment will be good candidates for the dental assisting program.
What does a dental assistant do?
A good dental assistant is very important to a dental practice. He or she has many duties and responsibilities that may include:
- Sterilizing and disinfecting instruments and equipment
- Preparing instruments and materials for treating patients
- Documenting and updating patient dental records
- Assisting the dentist during treatment
- Instructing patients on oral healthcare
- Processing dental x-rays
- Preparing materials for impressions and restorations
- Making casts of teeth and mouth impressions
What does the Summit College dental assistant curriculum include?
A combination of traditional classroom textbook learning and hands-on practice provides an excellent balance that prepares students for entry-level dental industry positions. Students learn the basics of oral cavity anatomy and dental terminology, as well as the role nutrition plays in dental health. CPR training and certification is also a part of the program. In addition, they spend a lot of time and attention discussing patient anxiety and relief, and good chairside manners. They learn about laboratory materials and techniques; how to take x-rays and make impressions of teeth; and dental specialty fields, including orthodontics and prosthodontics (teeth whitening, dentures, veneers and crowns).
What is the learning process like?
Summit College is committed to providing students with the knowledge and professional skills that dental offices are looking for. A balance of theoretical and hands-on education, combined with individual attention and faculty support create a comprehensive training program and strong foundation for a dental assistant career.
Is there a required externship?
Students must complete an externship at one of Summit College’s many area dental practice partners. In order to pursue the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) license, students must complete at least 12 months of satisfactory paid work experience with a licensed dentist, show successful completion of Board-approved courses in infection control, and meet California Dental Practice Act requirements. The RDA in California is a three-part test consisting of a hands-on proactive exam, a state computerized written general knowledge exam, and a state computerized law and ethics written exam.
For more information on how you can become a dental assistant, contact Summit College today.