One of the reasons dental assisting is an appealing career choice is because it is flexible.
A future dental assistant can step right away into a profession by either going to a dental assisting school or being trained on the job itself.
Both options offer the dental assistants the opportunity to enter the field quickly and start building careers for themselves.
But surely, one path may happen to be more suitable than the other depending on various factors.
And these factors have been listed below.
First and Foremost:
Article Table of Contents
Learning the Fundamentals
Many dental assistants who have followed formal dental assisting programs claim to have generally received a well-rounded, comprehensive education.
Formal education provides assistants with knowledge endowed with the best practices.
They learn standardized ways of performing various techniques and procedures as well as the theoretical part behind them.
Some dentists, however, may not cover those fundamental aspects of dental assisting when they train assistants on the job.
“School provided me with a good overall perspective of dental assisting,” says Susan M., CDA, who attended a dental assisting program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
“Some on-the-job-trained assistants may learn the hows, but not the whys things are done.
The dentist may not explain to them why you do it this way or what happens if you don’t do it this way.
It’s important to have knowledge of why you’re doing something, not just how.”
Finding the Right Dentist
We have all gone to dentists as patients, and we have always had feedback about them, the way they treat us and the others whom they work with.
So finding the right dentist is much more important than visiting one at all.
And so goes with a dental assistant who is in pursuit of learning from him.
Dental assistants who are trained on the job should work with dentists who are committed to both education and training.
“The key is to find a dentist who’s passionate about dentistry because they love to talk about it,” says Carlita R., CDA, who was trained on the job.
“They love to explain it. They love to teach.”
“I worked for two really great dentists.
They were so patient and would stop anything or make sure they followed up to answer any questions that I might have,” Carlita says.
“But it’s also important that you are not afraid to ask questions and ask why.”
The best on-the-job-trained assistants are the self-motivated ones.
They educate themselves inside and outside the dental office and that is a wonderful thing for their progress.
For example, Carlita regularly reads dental assisting textbooks and engages herself in continuous education.
She has also earned a state certificate in expanded functions dental assisting.
In addition, Carlita says that it is very helpful if a dental assistant trained on the job is primarily a “hands-on learner.”
A hands-on learning environment helps most individuals better understand and retain the information.
Some may say that learning directly about the issues of professionalism, customer service and how to interact with patients are advantages of on-the-job training.
That said, those who attend CODA-accredited dental assisting programs, or any formal education programs that incorporate clinical externships into the curriculum, receive direct experience with patients in a dental practice.
That allows the assistants to hone their professional and patient treatment skills.
“Technique was the last thing my doctors taught me because they said you can fix technique.
You need to have the right attitude first,” says Laura R., CDA, CPFDA, CRFDA, who received her dental assisting training on the job.
“They taught me how to be professional.
They taught me how to be compassionate — to have empathy.
To be respectful of the patients, your co-workers and yourself.”
Back to School
However, on-the-job training is not for everyone.
The fast-paced, high-stress environment of a dental practice means assistants must learn fast and think on their own.
If assistants want to learn in a controlled setting, with the ability to review concepts and practice procedures and techniques before doing patient treatment, dental assisting school, then, can be a far better choice.
Formal dental assisting programs also let students exposed to various procedures and skills that they may not learn about when they are being trained on the job.
For example, schools teach techniques related to general dentistry as well as specialties like endodontics.
“At school, you’re getting information from all different areas of the dental field.
So I definitely got knowledge about a wide range of skills and perspectives,” says Amy N., CDA, who attended a CODA-accredited dental assisting program.
“It’s made me a better dental assistant.”
Carlita, who works for general practice, agrees that on-the-job-trained dental assistants risk limiting their knowledge when they only work for one dentist.
For this reason, she volunteers at a nonprofit that provides free dental care to low-income people.
This volunteer pursuit allows her to learn from various dentists and dental auxiliaries.
In addition, she works part-time as an assistant at an orthodontic office.
No matter what preparatory path future dental assistants may take, they should support their education and training with lifelong learning.
“Whether you went to school or were trained on the job, a dental assistant should have a desire to learn,” says LeeAnn R., CDA, a dental assisting instructor at a CODA-accredited program who was trained on the job when she began her career.
“Continuing education and certifications help you perform and help move your career forward”.