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.
|Minnesota State Community Technical College - Moorhead||Moorhead||MN||No Data|
|Academy of Health Care Professions||Austin||TX||No Data|
|The Institute for Health Education||Fairfield||NJ||22|
|Galen College of Medical and Dental Assistants||Visalia||CA||34|
|Domestic Health Care Institute||Baton Rouge||LA||42|
|Oswego County Boces||Mexico||NY||42|
|Forbes Road Career and Technology Center||Monroeville||PA||42|
|Polaris Career Center||Middleburg Heights||OH||47|
|Mercer County Technical Education Center||Princeton||WV||68|
|North - West College - Pasadena||Pasadena||CA||73|
|Illinois School of Health Careers||Chicago||IL||73|
|Ulster County Boces School of Practical Nursing||Port Ewen||NY||74|
|Desert Career College||Palm Springs||CA||82|
|Nichols Career Center||Jefferson City||MO||88|
|Cleveland Institute of Dental - Medical Assistants||Cleveland||OH||92|
|Cleveland Institute of Dental - Medical Assistants||Mentor||OH||94|
|Huntington Institute Incorporated||Norwich||CT||95|
|Compu - Med Vocational Careers Corp||Hialeah||FL||96|
|American Institute of Medical - Dental Technology||Saint George||UT||100|
|Eton Technical Institute||Federal Way||WA||101|
|Porter and Chester Institute||Enfield||CT||104|
|Southern California International College - Brea||Brea||CA||111|
|Ohio Valley College of Technology||East Liverpool||OH||116|
|Schuylkill Technology Centers||Frackville||PA||123|
|Harrison Career Institute - Delran||Delran||NJ||127|
|Olympia Career Training Institute - Kalamazoo||Kalamazoo||MI||132|
|Galen College of Medical and Dental Assistants||Modesto||CA||137|
|Galen College of Medical and Dental Assistants||Fresno||CA||141|
|Southeastern Technical Institute||South Easton||MA||147|
|Lancaster County Career and Technology Center||Willow Street||PA||147|
|North - West College - Pomona||Pomona||CA||149|
|Uei College - Huntington Park||Huntington Park||CA||152|
|Uei College - Ontario||Ontario||CA||152|
|Uei College - San Diego||San Diego||CA||152|
|Uei College - Van Nuys||Van Nuys||CA||152|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Murfreesboro||Murfreesboro||TN||152|
|Altoona Area Vocational Technical School||Altoona||PA||154|
|Institute of Medical - Dental Technology||Cincinnati||OH||158|
|Pima Medical Institute||Chula Vista||CA||159|
|Eastland - Fairfield Career and Technical Schools||Groveport||OH||164|
|Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center||Cape Girardeau||MO||169|
|Akron Institute - A Division of Herzing Ohio Inc||Akron||OH||172|
|Atlantic County Vocational Technical School||Mays Landing||NJ||175|
|Clarita Career College||Canyon Country||CA||177|
|Ocean County Vocational - Technical School||Toms River||NJ||177|
|Western Technology Center||Burns Flat||OK||179|
|Pinnacle Career Centers||Houston||TX||181|
|North - West College - West Covina||West Covina||CA||187|
|Eastern School of Technology||Virginia Beach||VA||197|
|Western Career College||Pleasant Hill||CA||200|
|Allied Health Careers||Austin||TX||200|
|Central California School||San Luis Obispo||CA||206|
|Autry Technology Center||Enid||OK||208|
|Delaware Valley Academy of Medical and Dental Assistants||Philadelphia||PA||208|
|Moore Norman Technology Center||Norman||OK||209|
|Carver Career Center||Charleston||WV||212|
|Academy of Medical Arts and Business||Harrisburg||PA||213|
|Washington County Adult Skill Center||Abingdon||VA||231|
|Tulsa Technology Center - Lemley Campus||Tulsa||OK||243|
|Duluth Business University||Dultuh||MN||267|
|Omaha College of Health Careers||Omaha||NE||269|
|Vet Tech Institute||Pittsburgh||PA||272|
|Platt College||Oklahoma City||OK||273|
|Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center||Miami||FL||275|
|Concorde Career Institute||Jacksonville||FL||276|
|Great Lakes Institute of Technology||Erie||PA||277|
|Olympia Career Training Institute - Grand Rapids||Grand Rapids||MI||279|
|Lakeland Medical Dental Academy Inc - Division of Herzing College||Minneapolis||MN||286|
|Pima Medical Institute||Denver||CO||288|
|Eastern College of Health Vocations||Little Rock||AR||292|
|The Academy of Health Care Professions||Houston||TX||293|
|Everest College - Ontario||Ontario||CA||294|
|Pima Medical Institute||Seattle||WA||297|
|New York School for Medical and Dental Assistants||Long Island City||NY||298|
|Bridgerland Applied Technology College||Logan||UT||304|
|Minnesota School of Business - Brooklyn Center||Brooklyn Center||MN||306|
|Tidewater Tech||Newport News||VA||306|
|Salina Area Technical School||Salina||KS||310|
|Everest College - West Los Angeles||Los Angeles||CA||318|
|Concorde Career Institute||Kansas City||MO||320|
|Academy of Careers and Technology||Beckley||WV||320|
|Concorde Career Institute||Aurora||CO||321|
|Everest College - Renton||Renton||WA||321|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville||Shelbyville||TN||323|
|Davis Applied Technology College||Kaysville||UT||324|
|High - Tech Institute - Sacramento||Sacramento||CA||338|
|Western Career College||San Leandro||CA||345|
|National Institute of Technology||Houston||TX||345|
|Everest College - Everett||Everett||WA||345|
|Concorde Career Institute||Lauderdale Lakes||FL||349|
|Everest College - City of Industry||City Of Industry||CA||352|
|American Institute of Medical - Dental Technology||Provo||UT||360|
|Pima Medical Institute||Tucson||AZ||364|