Dental assisting is an in-demand entry-level vocation in dentistry that enjoys a positive growth outlook. More dentists are hiring dental assistants (DAs) to carry out routine office and clinical duties. Delegating these tasks facilitates more productive and effective dental caregiving. Dental assistants can enter the profession with relatively little education.
Traditionally, most dental assistants have received on-the-job training, but today more employers are looking for candidates with formal education. As a result, students are filling spots in dental assistant training programs at technical institutes, community colleges, universities, and dental schools. These programs teach the work skills necessary to prepare graduates for employment in a growing profession.
Quality 1- and 2-year certificate and associate programs are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association (ADA). Accredited dental assistant schools prepare graduates for the National Examination administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Success on this test earns candidates the professional Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential.
The majority of dental assistants have some postsecondary training, but not a full degree. Many of these DAs graduated from dedicated certificate-granting dental assisting programs that taught them the basics of providing clinical aid in a professional dentist's office. Most of these programs take between 9 and 12 months to complete, although accelerated and part-time options are available at some institutions.
In a vocational program, trainees learn how to help dental professionals during clinical procedures, in the lab, and with administrative functions. Graduates will have mastered the appropriate 'chairside' manner and the ropes of patient management, from conducting interviews and taking dental histories to measuring vitals and assisting during clinical procedures.
The upward career potential of dental assistants without additional credentials is limited, however. Supplementary credentials could come in the form of a degree or professional CDA certification, but many employers are looking for specialty vocational training in CPR, X-Rays, or a dental specialty like orthodontics. A Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) credential can be obtained through DANB.
On the other hand, some employers are looking for specialty on-the-job experience more than a certificate of training. For these positions, specialty vocational programs are useful insofar as they provide students such clinical practice opportunities and assistance with finding a job after graduation.
Courses for a Dental Assisting certificate may include:
What can you do with a certificate or diploma in Dental Assisting?
Although most dental assistants have only vocational training, some earn a degree from associate programs offered by dental schools and community colleges. The curricular emphasis at this level may be on Dental Assisting or on general Health Science with a concentration in Dental Assisting.
Two-year associate programs are more intensive than vocational programs, integrating extensive material related to practice management, radiography, and the underlying science of dental care. They also include a general education component. The best programs offer students a clinical internship or externship opportunity to get hands-on experience directly related to real-world practice.
DAs who wish to advance in the profession may go back to school to earn an associate's degree to become, for example, a dental hygienist. Others look for state permission to take on more clinical responsibilities. This does not necessarily entail earning an associate's degree, but such programs help students master the skills that will be tested for. Certificates may also serve this function, but associate programs provide more in-depth instruction.
Apart from state recognition, students can work towards DANB's Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA) credential to demonstrate competency in providing coronal polishing, sealants, topical fluoride, and topical anesthetics. While this certification is valuable to employers, states have their own credentials and qualifying tests, so check with your state board to learn about expanded duties.
Coursework for an Associate of Applied Science in Dental Assisting might include:
What careers are open to DAs with associate degrees?
Student interest in higher dental assisting education that affords greater on-the-job responsibility and career flexibility is growing. Some pursue their education to the baccalaureate level, where they learn advanced clinical and administrative skills. From there, they can use their assisting experience as a springboard for moving into higher-paying vocations reserved for bachelor degree-holders.
While upward mobility opportunities are generally flat for assistants without a degree, bachelor degree-holders can take on leadership positions and advocate for patient welfare in the community. Getting a bachelor's degree can pave the way to a greater diversity of potential work settings and patient populations.
Accelerated bachelors are available, cutting the time it takes to earn a baccalaureate credential to just 3 years at some schools. The best programs provide clinical internship opportunities that students can use to gain valued industry experience.
Undergraduate coursework in Dental Assisting may include:
What can a dental assistant with a bachelor's degree work as?
We found 393 schools offering dental assistant degree programs in the U.S.
|Washington County Adult Skill Center||Abingdon||VA||231|
|Siena Heights University||Adrian||MI||1972|
|Akron Institute - A Division of Herzing Ohio Inc||Akron||OH||172|
|College of Alameda||Alameda||CA||5088|
|Albany Technical College||Albany||GA||2444|
|Linn - Benton Community College||Albany||OR||4443|
|Pima Medical Institute||Albuquerque||NM||385|
|Altoona Area Vocational Technical School||Altoona||PA||154|
|Everest College - Anaheim||Anaheim||CA||964|
|University of Alaska Anchorage||Anchorage||AK||14794|
|Des Moines Area Community College||Ankeny||IA||10998|
|Washtenaw Community College||Ann Arbor||MI||11089|
|Fox Valley Technical College||Appleton||WI||6806|
|Randolph Community College||Asheboro||NC||1951|
|Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College||Asheville||NC||4940|
|Atlanta Technical College||Atlanta||GA||2884|
|Augusta Technical College||Augusta||GA||3265|
|University of Maine at Augusta||Augusta||ME||5617|
|Cambridge College - Aurora||Aurora||CO||426|
|Concorde Career Institute||Aurora||CO||321|
|T H Pickens Technical Center||Aurora||CO||765|
|Academy of Health Care Professions||Austin||TX||No Data|
|Allied Health Careers||Austin||TX||200|
|San Joaquin Valley College - Bakersfield||Bakersfield||CA||742|
|Domestic Health Care Institute||Baton Rouge||LA||42|
|James H Faulkner State Community College||Bay Minette||AL||2775|
|Academy of Careers and Technology||Beckley||WV||320|
|Middlesex Community College||Bedford||MA||7451|
|Bellingham Technical College||Bellingham||WA||3682|
|Northwest Technical College||Bemidji||MN||4638|
|Central Oregon Community College||Bend||OR||4079|
|Lake Michigan College||Benton Harbor||MI||3411|
|Lawson State Community College - Bessemer Campus||Bessemer||AL||1314|
|Northampton County Area Community College||Bethlehem||PA||4797|
|Camden County College||Blackwood||NJ||12131|
|Oakland Community College - Bloomfield Hills Campus||Bloomfield Hills||MI||23188|
|Normandale Community College||Bloomington||MN||7347|
|Boise State University||Boise||ID||16287|
|Manatee Technical Institute||Bradenton||FL||2721|
|Central Lakes College - Brainerd||Brainerd||MN||3138|
|Southern California International College - Brea||Brea||CA||111|
|Somerset County Technology Institute||Bridgewater||NJ||532|
|Massasoit Community College||Brockton||MA||6706|
|Minnesota School of Business - Brooklyn Center||Brooklyn Center||MN||306|
|Hennepin Technical College||Brooklyn Park||MN||5843|
|North Hennepin Community College||Brooklyn Park||MN||5261|
|Harcum College||Bryn Mawr||PA||545|
|Western Technology Center||Burns Flat||OK||179|
|Northeast Iowa Community College - Calmar||Calmar||IA||3480|
|Clarita Career College||Canyon Country||CA||177|
|Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center||Cape Girardeau||MO||169|
|John A Logan College||Carterville||IL||7675|
|Kirkwood Community College||Cedar Rapids||IA||11645|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill||NC||24892|
|Trident Technical College||Charleston||SC||10246|
|Carver Career Center||Charleston||WV||212|
|Central Piedmont Community College||Charlotte||NC||14908|
|Kee Business College||Chesapeake||VA||568|
|Illinois School of Health Careers||Chicago||IL||73|
|Pima Medical Institute||Chula Vista||CA||159|
|Institute of Medical - Dental Technology||Cincinnati||OH||158|
|Everest College - City of Industry||City Of Industry||CA||352|
|Hacienda La Puente Unified School District - Adult Education||City Of Industry||CA||2030|
|Cleveland Institute of Dental - Medical Assistants||Cleveland||OH||92|
|Lakeshore Technical College||Cleveland||WI||2742|
|Haywood Community College||Clyde||NC||1653|
|Brevard Community College||Cocoa||FL||13265|
|Pikes Peak Community College||Colorado Springs||CO||9997|
|Mt Diablo Adult Education||Concord||CA||637|
|New Hampshire Technical Institute||Concord||NH||2809|
|Del Mar College||Corpus Christi||TX||9936|
|Orange Coast College||Costa Mesa||CA||23315|
|Iowa Western Community College||Council Bluffs||IA||4503|
|Union County College||Cranford||NJ||8655|
|Eastern Iowa Community College District||Davenport||IA||6179|
|Daytona Beach Community College||Daytona Beach||FL||10420|
|Georgia Perimeter College||Decatur||GA||13708|
|Harrison Career Institute - Delran||Delran||NJ||127|
|Grayson County College||Denison||TX||3318|
|Emily Griffith Opportunity School||Denver||CO||7377|
|Pima Medical Institute||Denver||CO||288|
|Highline Community College||Des Moines||WA||6327|
|Wayne County Community College District||Detroit||MI||9008|
|Surry Community College||Dobson||NC||2946|
|Duluth Business University||Dultuh||MN||267|
|Durham Technical Community College||Durham||NC||4915|
|Ohio Valley College of Technology||East Liverpool||OH||116|
|Illinois Central College||East Peoria||IL||11053|
|Chippewa Valley Technical College||Eau Claire||WI||4503|
|Career Centers of Texas - El Paso||El Paso||TX||883|
|El Paso Community College||El Paso||TX||18001|
|Elgin Community College||Elgin||IL||10174|
|Flint Hills Technical College||Emporia||KS||391|