Words by Doris Cortes Delgado/Photograph by Andrew Hanenberg
ental assisting — an often overlooked career — has many advantages. The course of study is relatively short, the job opportunities are plentiful and it’s a first step for some into the field of dental hygiene. UMDNJ’s School of Health Related Professions (SHRP) accepts 20 students each year into its one-year Dental Assistant Program (DA).
Franck Joseph, a recent graduate, recalls a conversation with his wife a few years back about returning to school. He was a truck driver at the time and wanted a change. “We both were interested in the health field. Since, I’m always smiling and like to help people and make them smile, I decided on dental assisting,” he says.
“The program prepares students for certification in dental assisting, licensure as a Registered Dental Assistant, and licensure as a Dental Radiologic Technologist,” explains Carolyn Breed, EdD, chair of the Department of Allied Dental Health at SHRP. “The course costs approximately $9,000. Classes begin every January with an April 1 application deadline and are located at the Newark and Scotch Plains campuses. The starting salary in this field is about $18 an hour.”
Before choosing dental assisting, Joseph thought about studying to be a dental hygienist but decided against it. “I wanted to be able to do a variety of things. Assistants not only do patient care, they work in offices and laboratories. Hygienists work solely with patients,” he explains.
“There are many students who apply to our Dental Hygiene Program after completing the Dental Assisting Program, although acceptance is not guaranteed,” states Breed. “If a dental assisting graduate is accepted into our dental hygiene program within two years of graduation, the student will enter with advanced standing since 8 of the 11 classes taken in dental assisting are also part of the dental hygiene curriculum.”
After completing the prerequisites, consisting of three college- level courses (anatomy and physiology, one semester of English composition and one semester of general psychology), Joseph was accepted into the program in 2009. (Applicants must have a high school diploma.) He was one of four men in his class. The ratio of males to females changes with each class although the majority of dental assistants are women.
While attending the program, Joseph continued to work on weekends. “I know I had to sacrifice and study hard,” he says, “but I was lucky to have had great faculty and professionals teaching me.”
“The year went by quickly,” he continues. “I learned so much within that time that I couldn’t believe it was over. There was pressure but it was also fun.”
Following graduation, Joseph worked for a private oral surgery practice and realized how much he had learned. “It made me feel good knowing that I was taught well and I had learned the latest techniques and equipment. That reflected well on the program,” he says proudly.
While working at the practice, he applied for a job in the Department of Prosthodontics at UMDNJ-New Jersey Dental School and was hired. “Since I went to school at UMDNJ, I know a lot of people here. It’s like working with family.”
Joseph is happy with his career choice. “I love working with people. I want to help them feel better, have a better smile and good oral hygiene,” he says. “I highly recommend this field.”
His advice to anyone who wants to become a dental assistant is to make sure the field is a good fit for you. “It can be challenging to work in people’s mouths,” he says. “You might not be cut out for that. It’s best to know what you’re getting into ahead of time.”
When asked if he would consider dental hygiene in the future, his response was: “For now, I’m very happy. This is where I see myself staying for quite awhile.”.