Not all dental assistants are required to attend training or complete a formal education program prior to working in an actual office assisting a dentist. For some, on-the-job training can provide them with the skills and knowledge they need. Some dentists don’t want to train assistants, though, which is why it’s important for colleges and other organizations to start dental assistant schools.
Obtain support from local dentists. Before you start a dental assistant school or training program in a specific area, it’s wise to consult with dentists and obtain their support. These dentists often can serve as resources by donating some of their older, used equipment, as well as by donating their time by guest lecturing in a class. They also can play a critical role in the success and recruitment of a dental assistant program by pledging to only hire graduates from the school.
Seek out funding to start the school. Starting a dental assistant school can be expensive because of the cost of equipment and paying instructors and staff. While this cost can be cut down by acquiring used equipment through donations from dentists, some type of grant or loan funding is likely to be needed to pay for all the other expenses. Grants may be available from the state or federal government if the area where the school is located has a need for trained dental assistants. Schools also have the option to seek out donations from individuals and private foundations.
Lease or purchase a facility. Dental assistants train in a lab setting that resembles a dental office, except multiple mini-stations or dental chairs are set up in one room. This allows more than one student to practice a task or skill at one time. When leasing or purchasing a facility to train dental assistants, school administrators must find a space big enough to house a lab that will fit the number of expected students in their dental assistant training program.
Hire instructors and staff. Teachers are needed to provide training and instruction to dental assistant students in the program. While each school sets its own criteria for teachers, commonly they are dental assistants or hygienists with previous experience working in their respective field. As for school staff, an administrator is required to manage the daily operations of the school while administrative assistants and office professionals answer phones, provide answers to inquiries from the public and process enrollments, registrations and student records for the school.
Create the curriculum. To be accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation, a school must develop curriculum for a dental assistant training program. All the tasks and skills that a school plans to teach dental assistants must be broken down into units of study. In addition to classroom and lab instruction, a curriculum for a dental assistant program may contain hours and credits for practicum experiences that allow students to practice their skills in an actual dental office.
Write policies and procedures. Dental assistant schools are like other schools in that they need policies and procedures for handling emergency situations. In addition, dental assistant programs may need to develop and write policies pertaining to their admission’s process and the requirements for a student to complete dental assistant training.
Apply for accreditation. Many states require dental assistant programs to be accredited, but this isn’t done through the state. Instead schools apply for accreditation through the American Dental Association, and if accreditation is granted, it is recognized by the state. To apply for accreditation, dental assistant training programs must submit an application along with a self-analysis report to the Commission on Dental Accreditation. This report is completed by school administrators, instructors and staff who analyze their strengths and weaknesses in providing a dental assistant program. Two members from the commission along with a person from the dental board in the school’s state make a site visit to confirm or deny the accuracy of the self-study. They then submit a report on their findings to the commission, which decides whether to give a program full, partial or no accreditation.
Market the program and recruit students. Once accreditation has been granted, schools can begin marketing the program and recruiting students to fill the dental assistant training programs and classes. While advertising in newspapers and on television can spread the word to the general public, niche marketing can bring higher enrollment numbers. Dental assistant schools can do niche marketing by focusing on such events as career fairs for the unemployed and high school college nights as these target people looking for careers available through short-term training.
Allison Dodge has been a writer since 2005, specializing in education, careers, health and travel. She has worked at educational institutions for more than 10 years. Dodge has a master's degree in education administration.