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Requirements for a Dental Assistant

Learn about the education and preparation available to aspiring dental assistants. Get a quick view of the career requirements and employment outlook statistics as well as details about training programs to find out if this is the career for you.

Although a formal education is not required for finding work as a dental assistant, there are certificate, diploma and degree programs available in dental assisting, which are usually 12 years in duration. Some states require dental assistants to have appropriate licensure or certification prior to working in the field.

Essential Information

Dental assistants work closely with licensed dentists before, during and after dental work. They prepare patients for procedures, record medical histories, take x-rays and prepare dental equipment. Education requirements for becoming a dental assistant vary. In some cases, prospective dental assistants must complete some form of training and, in many states, earn licensure and/or national certification.

Education Requirements Varies; can range from a high school diploma to the completion of a postsecondary training program
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure and/or certification might be required by some states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 18%
Median Salary (2015)* $35,980

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements

There are no formal education requirements for entering a career in dental assisting. Some assistants have a high school diploma and only receive on-the-job training; however, postsecondary dental assisting programs offer more comprehensive career training. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were almost 300 dental assisting education programs approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in 2015 (www.bls.gov).

Dental assisting programs are typically 1-year diploma or certificate programs. These programs tend to focus solely on technical training through classroom, laboratory and clinical instruction. Courses may include dental materials, radiology, chairside assisting, dental office administration and biodental science. Some community colleges and vocational schools also offer 2-year associate's degree programs, which combine general education, technical training and more extensive clinical practicums.

Licensure

Some states allow dental assistants to perform all duties assigned by a dentist, while in other states, they must obtain licensure or registration to perform certain duties. Licensure requirements vary by state, but may include completing an accredited postsecondary program. Licensure candidates may also be required to pass a written or practical exam. Dental assistants often maintain licensure by earning continuing education at state-specified intervals.

Certification

The Dental Assisting National Board offers the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA®) certification, which was recognized or required by 38 states and the District of Columbia as of 2014 (www.danb.org). To be eligible to take the CDA® exam, applicants must hold a current CPR certification and meet one of the following qualifications:

  • have graduated from an accredited dental assisting/dental hygiene program,
  • have a high school diploma, or equivalent, and a minimum of 3,500 hours of approved work experience, OR
  • have previously held DANB CDA® status, or have graduated from an accredited DDS or DMD program, or graduated from a dental degree program abroad.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 18% employment increase for dental assistants through 2024. The BLS also reported an annual median salary of $35,980 for this occupation in 2015.

It's important to consider the job duties, required training and projected job growth when deciding if a career as a dental assistant might be right for you. Understanding whether or not you will have to acquire state licensure and/or certification prior to working as a dental assistant is a good first step in this process.

CDA is a registered trademark of The Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB). This website is not endorsed or sponsored by DANB.

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