Career Advancement for Dental Assistants

Oct 28, 2019

Dental assistants perform an important role in dental offices. After working as a dental assistant, one may wish to pursue additional education to take on more responsible roles in dental care.

Career Growth Opportunities for Dental Assistants

Dental assistants work in dental offices, under the supervision of dentists. They may perform tasks such as scheduling patients, sterilizing the treatment rooms, and keeping dental records. After working as a dental assistant, one might consider obtaining more education in order to take on other various roles within a dental office.

Job Title Median Salary Job Growth (2016-2026)* Education or Credentials
Expanded Functions Dental Assistant $36,599 (2018)** 19% (dental assistants) Post-secondary non-degree program
Dental Laboratory Technician $38,670 (2017)* 14% High school diploma and/or on-the-job training
Dental Hygienist $74,070 (2017)* 20% Associate's degree
Dentist $158,120 (2017)* 19% Doctoral degree

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **PayScale

Career Information

Expanded Functions Dental Assistant

One way a dental assistant might progress in the field is to seek certification as an expanded functions dental assistant, or EFDA. EFDAs are a critical component of the team working in a dentist's office. They typically take patient X-rays, and then help the dentist during surgical procedures or checkups by handling instruments or helping with topical anesthetics. The EFDA is typically responsible for ensuring that the exam room is stocked and meets appropriate cleanliness standards. The standards for becoming an expanded functions dental assistant differ state-by-state, but may require a post-secondary dental assisting program, radiology certification, and passing the Dental Assisting National Board exam.

Dental Laboratory Technician

In working as a dental assistant, some individuals may have developed experience in helping patients care for dentures and other dental implants. Those that enjoy this work might consider pursuing a career as a dental laboratory technician. Dental laboratory technicians use molds created by dentists to create dental appliances such as dentures and crowns. They might specialize in creating specific types of dental appliances or using specific materials. Those who wish to become a dental laboratory technician should at least have a high school diploma and/or on-the-job training. Voluntary certification is also available through the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology.

Dental Hygienist

Dental assistants who enjoy working with patients to help them care for their teeth may consider pursuing further education in order to become a dental hygienist. These dental professionals clean patient's teeth by using dental tools to remove plaque or tartar. Dental hygienists might use products such as fluoride to care for the teeth. They also teach patients about the importance of proper preventative dental care at home. A candidate would become a dental hygienist by pursuing an associate's degree program that includes both classroom and clinical experience. States may require examinations to receive a license.


Dental assistants who wish to pursue a good deal of additional education may wish to study to become a dentist. Dentists are the medical professionals who help patients in the care of their teeth. Dentists diagnose dental concerns by using tools such as X-rays or dental instruments. A plan of treatment that may include filling cavities is developed based on that examination. Dentists may also administer medications. Those who wish to become a dentist must first earn a bachelor's degree and then earn a doctoral degree at an accredited dental school. State licensure is required afterward.

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