Washington state resident Shannon Layton was placed in a dentist's office as part of a high school work study program, but pursued other interests following her 1990 high school graduation. She attended some community college classes and began to work at various jobs, married and her son arrived in 2001. Then tragedy struck. Her husband was killed in January of 2003.
As a widow with a young child, Shannon decided to take the opportunity offered by financial assistance from Social Security to take action on her dental field aspirations.
She enrolled in the dental assisting certificate program at Lake Washington Technical College in nearby Kirkland, Wash. Her externship this summer will be the final phase of the program.
How did you decide to study to be a dental assistant?
When I was high school, I was involved in a work study program for a dentist in the town I grew up in. He trained me for basic dental assistant help, no x-rays or expanded services like what I am learning in school now. I really liked it, and when I decided to go and get my education in the field, it was a good experience to build on.
How did you choose your dental assisting school?
I called a lot of schools when I was looking to school, and found Lake Washington Technical College. It had the best reputation for dental assistants who come out with a good education, ready to work. It is also has a clinic setting for hands-on experience, which not all dental assisting programs have.
What do you like about your dental assisting education so far?
I really like all of my instructors here, as well as working with the patients.
Describe the 'hands-on' phases of your dental assisting education.
We've been in clinic since January of 2005, where we actually practice on real patients, fillings, crown preps, everything that a dental clinic would do. The doctors are all really great, they are really patient with the students, and walk us through procedures beginning to end. Our instructors are also on hand to answer questions and advice. In addition to the clinic work, we assist the dental hygiene program students with procedures such as sealants, periodontal charting and polishes.
How can prospective dental assisting students assess their skill and aptitude?
I would say the best thing to do is to go into the clinic and watch for a few days. See what they do, if you are still interested, then yes. If you aren't interested in the field, you won't go very far. There are no pre-requisites to go into the certificate program; if you want to graduate with an associate's degree, there are math and English pre-reqs.
What factors should prospective students consider when choosing a school?
You want to talk to some dentists in your area and see what they say about the different schools; one dentists I interviewed with said he wouldn't hire students from a certain program in our area, because the students are not properly prepared for work in the field.
Would you change anything about your dental assisting education if you could? If so, what?
I would have done it a long time ago!
Tell us about your dental assisting career choice. What steps are you taking as a student to launch your dental assisting career?
I'm going to work for a general dentist to begin with, gain some experience, and decide if I want to go into a specialty field. We're taking a class on resumes and interviewing skills as part of the program, plus I have interviewed with dentists on my own.
What was it like when you worked on your first patient?
I was a little nervous, but not as much as if I had been a 'traditional' student straight out of high school. Plus, we had practiced on our lab partners before we began with patients.
What are some dental industry trends which could help potential dental assisting students plan for the future?
On of the newest trends is digital radiography, we'll have to learn that out in the field, as the technology is so new it is not available at our school yet.
Are there any common myths about the dental assisting profession?
Many people think that the dental assistant is just standing there handing over instruments to the dentist - they're wrong. We do all sorts of prep work and procedures under the guidance of the dentist.