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How to Become a Dental Assistant in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry does not require entry-level dental assistants to possess any special qualifications such as education, certifications, or licenses. The dental assistant job description in Pennsylvania must conform to the guidelines established in the state’s Dental Law, which includes working under the supervision of a licensed dentist.

Dental assistants in the state have the option of developing two additional proficiencies that they are authorized to perform after earning the following qualifications:

  • Authorization to Perform Radiological Procedures
  • Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) Certification

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Many of Pennsylvania’s 12,430 dental assistants choose to add these two qualifications to their repertoire of skills, and many dental assistant employers also either require or prefer applicants to possess these attributes.

The underlying factor for both these qualifications is education, as earning either of these requires either passing an examination or completing an academic dental assisting program. To become a dental assistant in Pennsylvania with either of these qualifications, candidates will also need to complete an application process with the State Board of Dentistry.

Qualifying to Become a Dental Assistant in Pennsylvania

Basic Dental Assistant – Dental assistants in Pennsylvania need only meet certain basic requirements for employment:

  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Be legally able to work in the United States
  • Not have any significant criminal record
  • Have graduated from high school or its equivalent
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Working under the supervision of a licensed dentist, dental assistants are permitted to:

  • Undertake tasks that are considered to be appropriate by the supervising dentist
  • Perform occupational safety procedures
  • Perform infection control

Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) – EFDAs are permitted to perform the following services under the supervision of a dentist:

  • Placing and removing matrices, rubber dams, and wedges
  • Placing, condensing, carving, and contouring amalgam restorations
  • Applying bases and cavity liners
  • Finishing and placing sealant material and composite resin restorations
  • Coronal polishing
  • Fluoride treatments such as fluoride varnishing
  • Taking impressions of teeth for diagnostic casts, study models, or athletic appliances

Becoming an EFDA through the Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry involves completing an education segment and EFDA Exam.

Candidates in Pennsylvania who want to earn an EFDA Certification will need to start by qualifying in one of three ways:

  • By graduating from a two-year dental assistant school in Pennsylvania that results in an associate’s of science degree and that is approved by the Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry
  • By graduating from a dental hygiene program that includes at least 75 hours of didactic and clinical instruction pertaining to restorative functions, and that is accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Accreditation
  • By completing a dental assistant certification program that specifically addresses expanded function dental assisting and includes at least 200 hours of didactic and clinical instruction that is approved by the State Board of Dentistry

Upon meeting one of these requirements candidates can then fill out an EFDA Application, submitting this and the following to the Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry at the address indicated on the application:

  • $75 application fee
  • A curriculum vitae of a candidate’s professional activities since completing the dental assisting academic program
  • Proof of current CPR certification for performance on adults, infants, and children

Candidates will also need to arrange for the following to be sent directly to the Board by the appropriate agencies

  • Any out-of-state licenses, permits, or certifications
  • Official dental assistant academic transcripts or degrees

Once the State Board of Dentistry has determined an application to be full and complete it will notify the EFDA Exam Company, PSI, that the candidate is qualified to take the EFDA Exam. PSI will then send the candidate an eligibility postcard that will allow the candidate to register online to take the EFDA Exam.

Candidates have 150 minutes to complete the exam, which covers EFDA theory and costs $99. Applicants can take the exam at testing centers located throughout Pennsylvania:

  • In Allentown at 1620 Pond Road, Suite 50
  • In Bristol at 1200 Veteran’s Highway, Suite B4
  • In Cranberry Township at 213 Executive Drive, Suite 150
  • In Erie at 2700 West 21st Street, Suites 21 and 22
  • In Greensburg at 116 East Pittsburgh Street, Suite 101
  • In Harrisburg at 2300 Vartan Way, Suite 245
  • In King of Prussia at 601 South Henderson Road, Suite 205
  • In Philadelphia at One Bala Avenue, Suite 315
  • In Pittsburgh at 1789 South Braddock Avenue, Suite 296
  • In Clarks Summit at 1125 Lackawanna Trail, Routes 6 and 11

Once PSI notifies the Pennsylvania State Board of Dentistry that a candidate has passed the exam, the Board may issue the EFDA Certification.

Authorization to Perform Radiological Procedures – Once a dental assistant has received this authorization from the State Board of Dentistry, he or she may perform radiological procedures under the supervision of a dentist. To be eligible for this authorization a candidate must complete the following:

  • Pass the Radiology Health and Safety (RHS) Exam which is offered through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB)

    • $175 to register for this exam
    • Registration with the DANB made through an RHS Exam Application Packet
    • Exam itself divided into four main parts:
      • Exposure and evaluation – approximately 26 percent
      • Quality assurance and radiology regulations – approximately 21 percent
      • Radiation safety for patients and operators – approximately 31 percent
      • Infection control – approximately 22 percent
  • Complete an Application for Authorization, sending this and a $75 application fee to the State Board of Dentistry at the address indicated on the application

Maintaining Dental Assistant Qualifications in Pennsylvania

An Expanded Function Dental Assistant Certification expires every two years on March 31st of odd-numbered years. To renew this dental assistants will need to submit the following to the State Board of Dentistry:

  • $25 renewal fee
  • Renewal application
  • Attestation of completion of at least 10 hours of continuing education

Continuing education must contribute directly to the maintenance of clinical competence as an EFDA. This includes study of subjects such as:

  • Technological and clinical subjects
  • Emergency procedures
  • Abuse and neglect
  • Infection control
  • Laws and regulations that pertain to EFDAs
  • Scientific and medical subjects

During their first full period of renewal, EFDAs must complete at least three of their continuing education hours in the area of coronal polishing at a hands-on clinical training course, unless they can qualify for an exemption by having already completed a similar type of training.

Professional organizations such as the Pennsylvania Dental Assistants Association (PDAA) can provide additional useful information about subjects including:

  • Dental assistant jobs in Pennsylvania
  • Upcoming continuing education opportunities
  • Dental assistant certification programs in Pennsylvania

Working as a Dental Assistant in Pennsylvania

Throughout Pennsylvania, dental assistant jobs are distributed as follows:

  • 4,430 dental assistants in Philadelphia and its greater metropolitan areas
  • 2,320 dental assistants in Pittsburgh
  • 1,020 dental assistants in Allentown and its surrounding metropolitan areas
  • 550 dental assistants in Youngstown
  • 520 dental assistants in Harrisburg and its surrounding metropolitan area
  • 510 dental assistants in Lancaster
  • 480 dental assistants in the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre areas
  • 420 dental assistants in the York-Hanover area

A recent sampling of dental assistant job announcements in Pennsylvania revealed the following qualification requirements:

  • Guthrie Healthcare System in Sayre was seeking a dental assistant who had a certification from an accredited dental assisting program as well as an authorization to perform radiological procedures.
  • Aspen Dental in Quakertown was recently seeking a dental assistant who had at minimum an authorization to perform radiological procedures.
  • Midwest Dental in Shadyside was recently advertising for a dental assistant who had a current CPR certification as well as a certification through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

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