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Gail Radford shows Alicia Kutz and Kiela Manes how to prepare for sterile procedures.

The dental assisting program at UCC brings together some of the key advantages of a community college education: affordability, learning valuable career skills and excellent employment opportunities after graduation. Tamara Loosli is the director of UCC’s dental assisting program. Here she shares some insights on dental assisting and UCC’s program. 

What is dental assisting?

The trend in dentistry for a long time now has been four-handed operative dentistry. This increases the efficiency and productivity of the doctor. The traditional dental assistant role has been to make sure that the doctor has a clean field of vision and has the correct instrumentation when needed during procedures. However, the role of dental assistants has been changing lately, and now expanded function dentals assistants are also doing a lot of the preliminary testing and impressions on patients. Some assistants are even trained to mill and stain crowns. Recently, assistants have also become able to make final impressions and perform phlebotomy work relevant to implant procedures. The overall trend is to have assistants do everything they can and then have the doctor come in and finish the procedure.

The role of dental assistants is twofold now: they are assisting the doctor to make them as efficient as possible and also doing a variety of tasks autonomously such as impressions, coronal polishing, making temporary crowns, and taking x-rays.

What course load do students take in UCC’s dental assisting program?

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Deidra Daigle shows Oleeta Watts techniques for handling suture supplies.

Students must complete 17 credits fall term, another 17 credits winter term and 18 credits during spring term to complete the program.

We have a progressive curriculum that begins in the fall. When classes begin, our students know very little about dentistry. It is like learning a whole new language involving dental anatomy, instruments, and procedures. The first term is all about infection control, learning dental terminology, getting comfortable with all the instrumentation and processes and introducing students to the lab. Most classes during first term are split evenly between lecture and lab, with three hours spent in lecture and three hours spent in lab practicing.

Throughout the winter and spring terms students take courses on law and ethics, dental health education, oral pathology, radiology, dental materials, dental office procedures, chairside procedures, dental terminology, dental anatomy and medical emergencies in the dental office. Students also have cooperative work experience hours at local dental offices.

What is the admission process?

The prerequisite courses for the program are Psychology 101, Writing 115, Math 60 and Computer Information Systems 120. A lot of dental assistant work, such as x-rays, is digital and requires working with a computer. Other requirements for applicants include having a background history check, providing a current healthcare occupations CPR card, passing a drug screening, passing a physical exam and being up-to-date on their vaccinations.

When can I apply?

The admissions process is based on the order in which applications are received with earlier applicants admitted first. Admission begin in January of each year.

Owen Cherry/The Mainstream
Deidra Daigle teaches Gina Hawley the procedure for removing sutures.

Why study dental assisting?

One great aspect of dental assisting is that you can launch into your career after one year of education. Dental assisting is a respected profession with a lot of room for growth and continuing education and is science-based, so things are always changing. One aspect of dental assisting that is attractive is the work hours, with a lot of assistants working four days a week without weekend or night shifts.

Another great aspect of dental assisting is that it allows you to get exposure to dentistry before committing to an extended education. A lot of our students are interested in dental hygiene, and this program allows them to learn more about dentistry and decide whether they want to go further and pursue dental hygiene or even dental school later.

There are also specific benefits related to attending an accredited dental assisting program such as UCC’s program. One great benefit is that assistants who graduate from our program already have their expanded function certificates. Additionally, our graduates can take the CDA exam right after graduation. Graduates from an unaccredited program need 3,000 hours of work experience before they are able to take the CDA.

What are the biggest challenges students face?

The biggest challenge for students in the program is finding the balance between work, school and family life. Most of our students work part time while in the program. It is a pretty intense program, but it is only one year before you are done, and the reward is well worth the effort.

What is the job market like?

There is a high demand for dental assistants, and most of our graduates have had no problem finding a job after graduation. The main factor driving the demand for dental assistants is the expanding role of assistants. I think we have graduates working in most of the dental offices in the Roseburg area, including both general dentistry and specialist offices.

How can I learn more?

The UCC Dental Assisting Program will host an open house on March 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. at the dental lab in the Health, Nursing and Science Center. Students interested in the program can see the lab and ask instructors and students questions.


Owen Cherry