Kenneth O. Gasper II. D.D.S., P.C., owner of Aesthetic Dentistry, has provided the space at his practice where classes for the Dental Assistant Program will be taught.

A local dentist is offering dental assistant classes through a national program — bringing the “Assist to Succeed” curriculum to Colorado Springs for the first time.

Dr. Ken Gasper said he became part of the national program because he’d hired dental assistants without the right skills to do the job. It was, he said, a direct answer to schools that provide expensive classroom work but no practical experience.

“What they teach in some schools isn’t practical to the job,” he said. “I’ve had to retrain some assistants, and I thought this would be a good way to get high-quality training and create jobs. It wastes time when you have to retrain people, and it wastes their money when the program isn’t practical.”

Qualified dental assistants are in short supply, according to Gasper, who’s been in dentistry for more than 30 years. He’s opening the doors to his busy practice on Saturdays to provide the accelerated training for Assist to Succeed.

It works like this: People attend a 10-week, eight-hour Saturday course to receive the dental assistant certification. The program is both faster and cheaper than traditional programs, Gasper said.

“We offer four hours of instruction and four hours of clinical work,” he said. “That way, students get hands-on training that they’ll actually use.”

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Upon graduating, dental assistants can earn between $8 and $20 an hour.

Typically, dental assistants earn an associate’s degree from an accredited program that can take much longer — and cost much more money.

“You can pay upward of $20,000 to become a dental assistant, and it takes up to 18 months,” he said. “This will be cheaper than that, and much faster.”

Gasper’s program, taught by practicing dentists and assistants, costs $3,995. That includes all textbooks and practical training, he said. It also includes assistance in finding a job through an externship program started with other local dentists.

“They leave here, and then try out their skills at another dentist office,” he said. “Then they’ll have both the certification and some experience to list.”

Despite the accelerated course and lack of an associate degree, graduates will still be fully state-certified. Gasper’s program went through a rigorous program to receive the OK from the state health department to run the program.

“Another advantage — people can still work and then come to the training,” he said. “Instead of attending classes four or five days a week, and trying to fit in a job. It really is the best of both worlds.”

Assist to Succeed, slated to start July 14 at Gasper’s office at 8610 Explorer Drive, is fully licensed by the state of Colorado. There’s still room in the program for more students.

“We’re trying to get the word out,” Gasper said. “I looked at several programs and decided that this would fit best with what I know dentists need.”

Assist to Succeed is the brainchild of another dentist, Dr. Taylor Clark, who started the first program in 2006 at Boise, Idaho. He decided to branch out and now more than 24 dental offices around the nation have started the program.