FAQs for Dental Assisting Students

What does a dental assistant do?

The tasks performed by a dental assistant are varied. Here are a few of the things a dental assistant does.

  • Assists the dentist during a variety of treatment procedures
  • Takes and develop x-rays
  • Serves as infection control officer
  • Helps patients feel comfortable before, during and after treatment
  • Teaches patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies
  • Performs office management tasks
  • Counsels patients about good nutrition
  • Helps provide direct patient care in general dentistry and the dental specialties

What is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?

While there are some functions that both the dental assistant and dental hygienist perform, the dental assistant primarily assists the dentist in providing treatment for the patient. A dental hygienist works more independently by providing oral hygiene care to the patient. Basically, the hygienist “cleans teeth” by removing hard and soft deposits. Both the assistant and the hygienist are trained to teach patients appropriate oral hygiene strategies and counsel patients on good nutrition.

Do I have to go to school to be a dental assistant?

Formal training is NOT a requirement for working as a dental assistant in North Carolina. However, many functions commonly delegated to dental assistants can only be performed by assistants who have attended an accredited program or those who have challenged and passed the Dental Assisting National Board. Most dentists prefer to hire trained assistants so that they can perform all the tasks needed.

How much do dental assistants get paid?

Pay varies greatly depending upon location and office. The average starting salary for dental assistants in the Jacksonville area is $27,200 per year.

How long is the dental assistant program?

The dental assisting program is one academic year in length. Students begin in the fall semester – usually around mid-August. They complete requirements for graduation at the end of the summer session in early August of the following year.

Do I HAVE to go to summer school?

Yes. Dental assisting courses are only offered once each year so it is imperative that you take and complete each course in the semester it is offered.

Is it possible to attend the dental assistant program on a part-time basis?

No. All dental assisting students are full-time students and must take all required courses when they are offered. This is a block scheduled program so courses are only offered once each year.

Is it hard to get into the dental assisting program?

The dental assisting program is a limited enrollment program. The admissions process is designed to choose the best qualified students who have a greater chance of successful completion of the program. A point system is used by the Dental Programs Admissions Committee to rank candidates. The top twenty-eight candidates are offered admission to the program. More information on the admissions process can be found in the Dental Assisting Bulletin.

What can I do to improve my chances of being accepted?

The best way to position yourself well for admission into the dental assisting program is to accumulate the greatest number of points possible. One way to do that is to take and earn high grades in the four related courses offered in the dental assisting curriculum. Those courses include:

  • ENG 102 Applied Communications II (English 111 may be substituted)
  • PSY 118 Interpersonal Psychology (Psy 150 may be substituted)
  • CIS 110 Introduction to Computers
  • BIO 106 Introduction to Anat/Phys/Micro (see the dental assisting bulletin for substitutions)

Points are also awarded for earning an A in ACA 111, College Student Success.

Is it possible for me to compete for a spot in the dental assisting program straight from high school?

Yes, it is! Points are also awarded for four specific high school courses. The courses include: 11th/12th Grade English

  • Algebra 1, Algebra II, Geometry, higher level math
  • Biology
  • Chemistry/Physics/Advanced Biology

Points are awarded for only one course in each category. Bonus points are provided for courses in each category that are designated Honors, AG or AP.

Candidates who complete Allied Health Science I and Allied Health Sciences II or Medical Sciences I and Medical Sciences II at the high school level, with a “C” (77% – 84%) or higher, will be able to earn up to an additional two points. One point will be given for each course taken (two points maximum).

What is the deadline for applying to the dental assisting program?

The second Friday in January each year.

If I am not accepted this year, will I automatically be put on the waiting list for the next class?

No. If you are interested in applying for a future class you must see the counselor for the dental programs and submit a Level II application. We do not maintain a waiting list from year to year.

If I accepted in February, does that mean I will not be able to attend the program in the fall?

Absolutely not. Each year the dental assisting program accepts several students from an alternate list. So even though you are not accepted in the first round, there is still a good chance that you may be accepted later, but not later than the first day of the fall semester.

As an alternate, what can I do to improve my chances of entering with the fall class?

To enter the dental assisting program, you must complete a health care provider level CPR course by the first day of class. Go ahead and take CPR so you will be ready if you receive a call offering you admission.

Also, you must receive at least the first two injections in the Hepatitis B vaccination series prior to enrollment. See your physician and have your vaccination. The Hepatitis B vaccination lasts indefinitely, and you will need it prior to entering any health care field.

Furthermore, if you have not yet completed the four related college courses, completing them in the spring and summer semesters before the dental assisting program begins is useful.

If you are offered admission, you must have your medical forms completely filled out within 10 days of entering the program. So, it would be a good idea to have your physical and your PPD (tuberculin skin test) done in advance. If you accept a position and are unable to complete the health requirements in the timeframe given, you will not be allowed to work in the clinic. This will severely limit your ability to successfully complete the program.

What are the chances of me getting Hepatitis or Aids from a patient?

The dental programs use Standard Precautions as the basis for infection control procedures. That means that all patients are treated as though they have an infectious disease. You will take a course that provides proper training in how to work safely and effectively prevent the transmission of disease in dental treatment. The risk of disease transmission from patient to members of the dental team is extremely low.

If I enter the dental assisting program, will I be required to work with patients who have HIV/AIDS?

Yes, you will. The Americans with Disabilities Act forbids discrimination against patients with HIV; therefore, students are required to treat all patients assigned, regardless of the disease state of the patient. Refusal to treat any patient may affect the student’s academic success.

About how many hours will I be in school each week?

The actual schedule for dental assisting courses varies from semester to semester. A full load in the dental assisting program ranges from 25-31 hours per week. If you have taken all of the related courses prior to entering the program, the schedule ranges from 21-24 hours per week.

Is the program hard?

The course work in the dental assisting program is challenging. It is necessary to cover a large amount of material in a short amount of time. It takes a big commitment on the part of the student to successfully complete the program. That said, the faculty works hard to provide assistance to students who need additional help. Information is provided using a variety of teaching styles. Counselors are also available to provide information on learning styles, study techniques and time management. Our goal is to retain the greatest number of students possible.

What can I do to improve my chances of success in the dental assisting program?

One thing you can do is take as many related college courses as possible prior to entering the program. This allows you more time to focus on your dental courses. Also, the ACA 111 course provides students with proven strategies for achieving success in college courses. There has been a lot of research conducted concerning the factors that make college students successful. One of the most important factors to consistently arise form this research focuses on attendance. GO TO CLASS! Students who regularly attend class perform better than those who don’t.

How much time should I set aside for study on a weekly basis?

That really depends upon you and your study skills. A general rule of thumb is that you should plan to spend about 2 hours of time outside of class for every 1 hour of class time. That means that if you are in class for 20 hours each week, you should plan to study an additional 40 hours! Of course, in the dental assisting program, many of the class hours are labs and clinics which do not require as much outside study time. But, you can see that the dental assisting program is a full-time commitment.

Do dental assisting students have to maintain a certain GPA (grade point average)?

Yes, students must maintain an average of C in the program. A student is on academic probation during a semester if he/she does not maintain the required C average. A student will be suspended from the program if a final grade of “F” or more than one final grade of “D” is earned in dental courses.

How many hours can I work each week and still keep up with my school work?

That’s a tough question to answer because it varies from student to student. We recommend that students not work while in the dental assisting program. Aside from the approximately 25 hours per week you will spend in lectures, labs and clinics, there will be times you will need to spend doing additional lab work. Also, you will need sufficient study and rest time. While we recommend you not work, we realize that it is simply not financially feasible for some students not to have an income while in the program. If you MUST work, try to limit your hours to no more than 10 hours per week – less if possible. And, try to find a job that allows you flexibility in scheduling.

Does the dental assisting program have a strict attendance policy?

Coastal Carolina Community College is committed to the principle that class attendance is an essential part of its educational program. The dental assisting department follows the attendance policy outlined in the College Catalog. Instructors administratively drop students who miss more than 6.25% (one week) of class hours. Please read the College Catalog’s listed policies on reinstatement and hearings.

Is there a dress code for the dental assisting program?

Yes. Dental assistants are dental health professionals and their attire and appearance should reflect this. Complete guidelines are located in the Policies and Procedures Manual found in the Current Students section of this web page. Briefly, dental assisting students must wear clean, pressed scrubs, gowns, and clean clinic shoes when working in the clinic. Hair must be secured away from the face. Students are not allowed to wear earrings or have visible body piercing. The only jewelry allowed is a watch and engagement ring and/or wedding band. When working aboard Camp Lejeune no hand jewelry is allowed.

Do most graduates find a job easily?

The majority of dental assisting graduates find employment very quickly. In fact, many students already have jobs offers when they graduate. The goal of the program is that half of the graduates responding to the graduate survey will report employment in the field or enrollment in an educational program on the graduate student survey. The dental assisting program always exceeds this goal.

If my child is sick and not allowed to attend day care, can I bring him/her to school with me?

No, you may not. According to the College Catalog, no visitor, student, faculty member, or employee of the College should bring his/her children or other children with him/her to class or work. While we understand the problems associated with being a single parent, we can not allow students to bring children to school. We suggest you find a friend or neighbor who can care for your child on short notice if the need arises.

Will I take all of my courses on the main campus of the college?

All lecture and laboratory classes are held on campus. However, in the spring semester, students are scheduled in dental clinics aboard Camp Lejeune and in private practice offices in Jacksonville. Also, students will visit local schools for community health. In the summer semester, students are scheduled in private practice offices locally as well as in surrounding areas. Students are responsible for providing their own travel to assigned sites.

Will I be assigned patients to work on in labs and clinics?

Students practice pre clinical dental assisting skills using manikins and classmates. During the spring semester you will be responsible for providing your own patients for DEN 112, Dental Radiography, and DEN 104, Dental Health Education. You will be advised of the type patients you need at the beginning of the semester.

Someone told me that dental assisting students are not allowed to smoke. Is this true?

The use of tobacco products has been proven to cause very serious health problems; therefore, we strongly urge all students to refrain from the use of tobacco of any type. The dental assisting program does not allow students to smoke when wearing clinic attire. Coastal Carolina Community College has adopted the following policy regarding smoking:

As a provider of higher education and job training, Coastal Carolina Community College promotes the health and safety of all students, faculty, staff, and visitors.  Numerous efforts have been made toward the creation of an atmosphere which is most conducive to teaching and learning, minimizing health and safety risks to the extent possible.  Consequently, upon the recommendation of the Coastal Faculty Assembly, the campus will be tobacco-free effective at the beginning of the 2014 Fall Semester.

Upon the recommendation of the Coastal Carolina Community College Student Government Association, the use of electronic nicotine delivery systems is prohibited in all campus buildings, including entry ways.

Is Coastal’s dental assisting program accredited?

Yes. The dental assisting program is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association. More information can be found in the Accreditation Section under General Information.

What do employers say about Coastal’s dental assisting graduates?

The dentists who hire our graduates consistently give them an overall rating of excellent on the Employer Survey. 100% of the employers have said that they would hire future Coastal graduates!

Why should I consider a career in dental assisting?

One year in the Dental Assisting program can prepare you for a challenging and rewarding career. There is a high demand for well-trained dental assistants in Onslow County, surrounding areas, and the country. Graduation from the Dental Assisting program prepares graduates to work in private dental practices, public health clinics, hospital dental clinics, military dental clinics, and in dental schools.

Whom do I contact if I want to learn more about the dental assisting program?

Please contact Student Services at 910-938-6394 for more information.