So you want to be a dental assistant. Good choice. People always need help keeping their teeth clean and healthy, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the future job market is good for dental assistants, who work with X-ray equipment to make radiographic films or X-rays of a patient's mouth. Getting certified in radiography is part of a general dental assistant's certification.
Taking X-rays is only one small part of a dental assistant's job. X-rays of a patient's mouth can help the dentist diagnose conditions that don't show up in ordinary office examinations. They are especially important for pediatric dentists, because X-rays show the dentist how the child's mouth is developing as he grows. Dental assistants also sterilize instruments, set up procedure trays, prepare patients for procedures, order supplies and maintain dental records.
Your state's licensing requirements dictate the kind of training you need to work as a dental assistant. A dental assistant usually learns her trade through a combination of vocational school and on-the-job training. A community college dental assisting program in Oregon includes five classes in dental radiology. The first course is introductory, with students learning about theory and safety principles. In later classes, students practice their skills on manikins and eventually work on real patients under supervision. These courses also prepare students for national and state X-ray certification exams.
The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) administers certification programs for dental assistants. The Certified Dental Assistant program includes three exams: a general chairside exam, a radiation and health safety exam and an infection control exam. To be certified, you have to pass all three exams within a five-year period. You can take the RHS -- the exam that covers X-rays -- without taking the other two. If you pass, you'll earn a Certificate of Competency in RHS, which is the closest the DANB comes to offering a dental assistant X-ray certification.
The Certified Dental Assistant Radiation and Health Safety Exam is the test you must pass to get your dental assistant X-ray certificate of competency. The RHS exam is a 100-question multiple-choice test that you must finish within 75 minutes. Most of the exam -- more than 40 questions -- covers taking and evaluating the X-rays. The exam also tests your ability to process film, and mount and label the patient's X-rays. Two additional exam sections cover patient safety and X-ray operator safety, respectively.
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