San Diego Dental School Degree Programs with Course Information

There are three schools within 35 miles of central San Diego that offer dental degrees. Read an overview of the colleges' program options and requirements to find out which one is right for your goals.

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Dental Degree Programs in San Diego

While there are no dental schools in San Diego that prepare students to become dentists, a few institutions offer training programs geared towards other careers in the dental field. This article covers the required courses and clinical work in programs at three schools. It also includes a table of facts and figures with even more details on the colleges for comparison.

  • San Diego Mesa College, located about seven miles from the city's center, offers certificate and associate's degree programs in dental assisting.
  • Located about six miles outside of downtown San Diego, students can complete an associate's degree program in dental hygiene at Southwestern College. The main campus is in Chula Vista, but the dental program is offered at the college's Health Education Center at National City.
  • Another option is Palomar College in San Marcos, which is situated roughly 34 miles from San Diego's downtown area. Students attending this school can train to become a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) by completing a certificate or associate's degree program in the field.

San Diego Mesa College

This community college is the largest school within the San Diego Community College District. Through the School of Health Sciences and Public Service, students may complete a certificate program and an associate's degree program in dental assisting. These programs are accredited by the American Dental Association's Commission of Dental Accreditation (CODA) and the Dental Board of California (DBC).

Certificate of Achievement in Dental Assisting

Students enrolled in this program will complete a prerequisite course during the summer term. Students receive training in performing chairside dental procedures, providing coronal polishing, operating dental x-ray equipment, using dental business administration software and implementing sterilization procedures for infection control. Students also complete directed clinical practice sessions and must attain 35 credits to complete the program. Graduates of the program qualify to take the California RDA and the national Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exams.

Associate in Science in Dental Assisting

This degree program is essentially the same curriculum as the dental assisting certificate program. The only difference between the two programs is that students earning an associate's degree must meet the 60-credit degree requirement by taking elective courses. Students complete the 35 credit hours of core courses in areas such as advanced dental assisting, basic dental science, clinical business management and preventative dental care. Completion of this program also qualifies students to take the RDA and CDA examinations.

Southwestern College

Southwestern College was founded in 1961 and is a part of the California Community College System. The school is located between San Diego and the U.S.-Mexico border. The dental program is offered during weekdays at the college's Higher Education Center at National City.

Associate in Science in Dental Hygiene

Students in this program learn how to provide oral health assessments, remove particles from teeth and use machines to take dental x-rays. Courses offered include head and neck anatomy, oral anatomy, dental radiography and infection control. Through the Dental Hygiene Clinic, students get to work on actual patients under the supervision of licensed dentists and registered dental hygienists. Upon completion of the program, students are eligible to take the California Registered Dental Hygienist Licensure Exam, the California Dental Law and Ethics Exam and the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination.

Palomar College

This school is a member of the California Community Colleges System. The school offers over 300 certificate and associate's degree programs in areas such as performing arts, journalism, environmental technology, special education and business.

Certificate of Achievement in Dental Assisting (Registered Dental Assistant)

Students in this program are required to complete 36-37 credit hours of coursework. The curriculum is designed to prepare students to become RDAs. Students who meet all of the program requirements are eligible to take California's RDA exam, as well as the CDA exam offered by the DANB. Graduates also receive certificates in California Practice Act and Infection Control, pit and fissure sealants, coronal polishing and dental radiography.

Associate in Arts in Dental Assisting (Registered Dental Assistant)

Students complete the same major courses offered in the certificate program, along with electives to meet the requirements for a degree. All courses must be completed within two years from enrollment to avoid losing credits earned. Students complete several hours of clinical lab training in areas such as advanced dental procedures, dental materials, dental practice management, dental radiography and preventative dentistry. In the final semester, students participate in a clinical rotation where they perform procedures under the guidance of licensed dentists. Students who successfully complete this degree program also receive the certificate awards mentioned in the previous section and are able to take certification exams.

Comparison of Schools

As two-year public schools, the profiled colleges have similar tuition rates, enrollment numbers and admission policies. To get specifics on these and many other factors that might influence your education decision, glance over the table below.

San Diego Mesa College Southwestern College (Health Education Center at National City) Palomar College
School Type 2-year; public 2-year; public 2-year public
Total Enrollment (2011) 25,504* 20,409* 25,427*
Campus Setting Large city Large suburb Small city
Tuition and Fees (2011-2012) $898 in-state; $5,290 out-of-state* $1,052 in-state; $6,372 out-of-state* $1,052 in-state; $5,084 out-of-state*
% of First-Year Students Receiving Any Form of Aid (2010-2011) 54%* 73%* 49%
Acceptance Rate (2011) N/A - open admissions N/A - open admissions N/A - open admissions
Retention Rate (2011) 62% for full-time students* 70% for full-time students* 66% for full-time students*
Graduation Rate (2011) 22%* 12%* 26%*

Source: NCES College Navigator

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