4 Common Questions About Becoming a Dental Assistant in Texas
Were you welcomed by a friendly face when you showed up for your last dental appointment? Chances are that you benefited from the support of a skilled dental assistant. These professionals help patients feel comfortable, handle basic office administration tasks, and provide essential assistance to dentists during dental procedures. Dental assistant programs in Texas can help you gain the knowledge and expertise you'll need in order to take advantage of rapidly expanding opportunities in this field.
Here are answers to four common questions about dental assistants in the Lone Star State:
1. What Do Dental Assistants Do?
Dental assistants in Texas perform a wide range of tasks related to patient care, lab procedures, and office administration. On a typical day, they might:
- Clean and sterilize instruments
- Pass instruments to the dentist during procedures
- Prepare impression molds
- Apply fluoride treatments
- Take dental x-rays under the direct supervision of a dentist
- Maintain patient records
- Teach patients about proper oral hygiene
- Schedule patient appointments
- Order supplies
With additional training, dental assistants can also administer nitrous oxide, apply sealants, and perform coronal polishing (i.e., remove plaque using a toothbrush or rotary instrument).
2. How Do I Get Into This Field?
The Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) recognizes three levels of dental assistants:
Dental assistant—This entry-level role requires no specialized education or training. So, technically, you don't have to go to school to become a dental assistant, although formal training will make it easier for you to find a job in this field. Dental assistants can perform most tasks listed above, but they are only permitted to use an x-ray machine under the direct supervision of a dentist, and only for one year. After one year, they must become Registered Dental Assistants in order to be able to take and develop x-rays.
Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)—RDAs are fully qualified to take dental x-rays. To be eligible for registration, you must complete a course in basic life support as well as a TSBDE-approved training course that covers infection control and the proper use of x-ray equipment. Alternatively, you can complete the life support course, earn the Certified Dental Assistant certification from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), and complete the jurisprudence assessment from the TSBDE.
Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)—CDAs are certified by the DANB on a national level. To become a CDA, you must graduate from an accredited dental assistant program. Certificate and diploma programs are available at community colleges and technical schools. If you go this route, it takes nine to 12 months to become a certified dental assistant in Texas. In addition, you will need to get your CPR certification and pass the CDA exam, which covers radiation safety, infection control, and chairside assisting.
If you want to perform expanded functions, you must meet specific requirements. In Texas, "expanded functions" include pit and fissure sealant application, coronal polishing, and nitrous oxide administration.
To apply pit and fissure sealants, a dental assistant must:
- Have at least two years of job experience
- Complete a course in basic life support (BLS)
- Complete at least eight hours of relevant training through a dental assistant program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and approved by the TSBDE
To perform coronal polishing, a dental assistant must:
- Have at least two years of experience as a dental assistant
- Complete at least eight hours of classroom and clinical training through a CODA-accredited and TSBDE-approved dental assistant program; OR graduate from an accredited dental assistant program; OR earn a Coronal Polish certificate from the DANB
To administer nitrous oxide, a dental assistant must:
- Complete a BLS course
- Complete at least eight hours of training through a CODA-accredited and TSBDE-approved dental assistant program
- Apply for a nitrous oxide monitoring certificate from the TSBDE
3. How Much Does a Dental Assistant Make in Texas?
A dental assistant makes a median annual salary of $35,028 in Texas. That means half of the workers in this occupation earn more than that amount and half earn less. Statewide, a dental assistant makes $16.84 an hour as a median wage.1
Your earnings could be even higher, depending on which part of Texas you live in. For instance, dental assistants in Wichita Falls earn a median annual salary of $38,788, and those in the Austin-Round Rock metro area have a median salary of $41,048.1
4. What Is the Outlook for This Occupation in Texas?
Opportunities abound for dental assistants in the Lone Star State. The Dallas and Houston areas rank among the top five cities in the country for the number of dental assistant jobs.2 And employment in this profession is expected to grow nearly 27 percent throughout Texas over the 10-year period between 2014 and 2024. More than 1,300 dental assistant jobs should become available each year over that decade.1
A more fulfilling future is within your reach. With the training offered by dental assistant schools in Texas, you can be better prepared for a multitude of opportunities in dental practices. Have a look at the programs listed above or type your zip code into the school finder to get a list of convenient options close to where you live!
1 Texas Workforce Commission, Labor Market and Career Information, Texas Wages and Employment Projections, website last visited on October 2, 2018.
2 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on October 2, 2018.