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How to Become a Dental Assistant in New Mexico

According to the New Mexico Workforce Connection, there were 2,043 dental assistants employed in New Mexico in 2012. The New Mexico Workforce Connection projected that there will be 2,339 dental assistants in the State, a total increase of 14.49 percent, or an annual increase of 1.36 percent.

The New Mexico Board of Dental Health Care oversees the practice of dentistry, dental hygiene, and dental assisting in New Mexico. The Board also sets professional and educational standards to obtain and maintain licenses/certification for dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants.

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There are two levels of dental assisting in New Mexico:

  • Dental Assistant: A dental assistant in New Mexico, who may perform basic support functions under the supervision of a licensed dentist, is not required by state law to complete formal education and training.
  • Dental Assistant in Expanded Functions: Dental assistants who perform expanded functions must earn state certification in the desired expanded functions, which include:
    • Application of topical fluoride and rubber cup coronal polishing
    • Pit and fissure sealants
    • Expanded function dental auxiliary (EFDA)
    • Community Dental Health Coordinator (CDHC)
    • Radiography

Dental Assistant School Programs in New Mexico

The completion of a dental assisting program is the most ideal path to becoming a dental assistant who performs expanded functions.

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Dental assistants in New Mexico who have earned the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential are automatically qualified to apply for state certification in:

  • Application of topical fluoride and rubber cup coronal polishing
  • Pit and fissures sealants
  • Radiography

To qualify to take the CDA examinations, candidates must either have 3,500 hours of professional experience in dental assisting OR a have completed a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) – accredited program in dental assisting. Further, candidates may qualify to become certified in expanded function dental auxiliary (EFDA) if they have completed a CODA-accredited dental assisting program. In other words, the completion of a CODA-accredited program provides the foundation to serve as a dental assistant in all expanded functions in New Mexico.

A CODA-accredited dental assisting program, which may be found through a community college, vocational/technical college, dental school, or online institution, is typically less than a year in length, although there are a few associate degree programs in dental assisting that are two years in length.

Dental assisting programs, in addition to consisting of the necessary curriculum in dental assisting, end in a clinical experience that provides students with critical, hands-on experience in dental assisting. There are currently 5 CODA-accredited programs in New Mexico.

Qualifications in New Mexico to Perform Specific Expanded Functions

Although basic dental assistants in New Mexico are not legally required to participate in specific training or education, their employment and earning potential may be limited, so it is often best to achieve certification in one or more expanded functions.

To become certified in expanded functions in New Mexico, dental assistants must complete all necessary requirements:

Application of topical fluoride and rubber cup coronal polishing

To qualify to perform rubber cup coronal polishing and apply topical fluoride in New Mexico, dental assistants must either achieve the CDA credential through DANB or:

  • Complete a training course or independent study and assist with and/or observe 5 cases on both children and adults; AND
  • Pass the Topical Fluoride (TF) and Coronal Polish (CP) exams through the DANB; AND
  • Pass a clinical exam that requires performing each function 5 times under the supervision of a licensed dental hygienist, dentist or certified dental assistant

Radiography

To qualify to operate dental x-ray equipment and perform radiographic procedures in New Mexico, dental assistants must either achieve the CDA credential or:

  • Complete a training course or independent study on radiation health and safety within the past 3 years; AND
  • Assist with or observe 5 cases of full mouth radiography; AND
  • Pass a written examination on radiation health and safety administered by the New Mexico Board of Dental Health Care; AND
  • Pass the radiation health and safety (RHS) exam through DANB; AND
  • Apply to the New Mexico Board of Dental Health Care for a training permit
  • Pass a state radiography clinical exam

Pit and fissure sealants

To qualify to perform pit and fissure sealants in New Mexico, dental assistants must either achieve the CDA credential through DANB or:

  • Complete at least 2,080 hours of chairside dental assisting in the past two years; AND
  • Complete a training course or independent study in pit and fissure sealants; AND
  • Assist with and/or observe 12 cases of pit and fissure sealant application on both children and adults; AND
  • Pass the Sealants (SE) exam through DANB; AND
  • Pass a clinical exam that includes the application of pit and fissure sealants under the supervision of a licensed dental hygienist or dentist on at least 5 patients

Expanded function dental auxiliary (EFDA)

To qualify as an EFDA in New Mexico, dental assistants must complete a dental assisting program accredited by CODA or an EFDA course accredited by CODA or:

  • Complete at least 5 years (1,000 hours per year) of experience as a dental assistant or dental hygienist; AND
  • Earn state certification in the following expanded functions:

    • Radiography
    • Application of topical fluoride and rubber cup coronal polishing
    • Pit and fissure sealant; AND
  • Complete a course and examination prescribed by the New Mexico Board of Dental Health Care; AND
  • Pass a clinical examination that has been approved by the Board of Dental Health Care; AND
  • Complete a 180-day apprenticeship approved by the New Mexico Board of Dental Health Care; AND
  • Obtain a recommendation from a supervising dentist for EFDA certification; AND

Community dental health coordinator (CDHC)

CDHC dental assistants in New Mexico are permitted to perform specific procedures, including preventative, palliative, and restorative procedures in New Mexico. To become a certified CDHC, dental assistants must:

  • Possess New Mexico certification in:

    • Radiography
    • Application of topical fluoride and rubber cup coronal polishing
    • Pit and fissure sealant; AND
  • Complete a CDHC program approved by the Board of Dental Health Care

Applying to Become a Dental Assistant with Expanded Functions in New Mexico

Individuals who want to become a dental assistant with expanded functions may either apply for certification by credentials if they possess a CDA credential or by examination if they do not possess the CDA credential.

All applications for expanded functions can be found here. In addition to a completed application, candidates must submit a fee of $50 and a passport-quality photo to:

New Mexico Board of Dental Health Care
P.O. Box 25101
Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505

After the initial license period, certifications in expanded functions expire every 3 years on June 30. To qualify for license renewal, certification holders must complete at least 30 hours of continuing education. Continuing education may be complete online, through self-study, or through webinars.

Working as a Dental Assistant in New Mexico

The New Mexico Workforce Connection broke down dental assistant employment by metropolitan statistical area, as of 2012:

  • Albuquerque: 870 dental assistants
  • Las Cruces: 243 dental assistants
  • Santa Fe: 224
  • Farmington: 172

Dental assistants may find membership in a professional association to be very useful for networking and employment opportunities:

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