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.
|Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology||Naples||FL||1607|
|Lower Columbia College||Longview||WA||3248|
|Luna Community College||Las Vegas||NM||973|
|Luzerne County Community College||Nanticoke||PA||5920|
|Madison Area Technical College||Madison||WI||14474|
|Madison Oneida Boces - Continuing Education||Verona||NY||652|
|Manatee Technical Institute||Bradenton||FL||2721|
|Mandl School||New York||NY||680|
|Marshalltown Community College||Marshalltown||IA||2198|
|Massasoit Community College||Brockton||MA||6706|
|Medical Careers Institute||Newport News||VA||379|
|Medina County Career Center||Medina||OH||584|
|Mercer County Technical Education Center||Princeton||WV||68|
|Metro Technology Centers||Oklahoma City||OK||434|
|Metropolitan Community College Area||Omaha||NE||11534|
|Miami Technical Institute||Miami||FL||489|
|Mid Michigan Community College||Harrison||MI||2316|
|Mid Plains Community College||North Platte||NE||2607|
|Middlesex Community College||Bedford||MA||7451|
|Midlands Technical College||West Columbia||SC||9702|
|Milwaukee Area Technical College||Milwaukee||WI||14296|
|Minneapolis Community and Technical College||Minneapolis||MN||6363|
|Minnesota School of Business - Brooklyn Center||Brooklyn Center||MN||306|
|Minnesota State Community Technical College - Moorhead||Moorhead||MN||No Data|
|Minnesota West Community and Technical College||Granite Falls||MN||3296|
|Missouri College||Saint Louis||MO||544|
|Monroe Community College||Rochester||NY||15315|
|Monterey Peninsula College||Monterey||CA||9421|
|Moore Norman Technology Center||Norman||OK||209|
|Mott Community College||Flint||MI||8659|
|Mount Ida College||Newton||MA||1196|
|Mt Diablo Adult Education||Concord||CA||637|
|National Institute of Technology||Houston||TX||345|
|New Hampshire Technical Institute||Concord||NH||2809|
|New York School for Medical and Dental Assistants||Long Island City||NY||298|
|Niagara County Community College||Sanborn||NY||4641|
|Nichols Career Center||Jefferson City||MO||88|
|Normandale Community College||Bloomington||MN||7347|
|North - West College - Pasadena||Pasadena||CA||73|
|North - West College - Pomona||Pomona||CA||149|
|North - West College - West Covina||West Covina||CA||187|
|North Central Michigan College||Petoskey||MI||2196|
|North Dakota State College of Science||Wahpeton||ND||2425|
|North Hennepin Community College||Brooklyn Park||MN||5261|
|Northampton County Area Community College||Bethlehem||PA||4797|
|Northeast Iowa Community College - Calmar||Calmar||IA||3480|
|Northeast Wisconsin Technical College||Green Bay||WI||7500|
|Northern Essex Community College||Haverhill||MA||6580|
|Northwest Technical College||Bemidji||MN||4638|
|Northwestern Michigan College||Traverse City||MI||3965|
|Oakland Community College - Bloomfield Hills Campus||Bloomfield Hills||MI||23188|
|Ocean County Vocational - Technical School||Toms River||NJ||177|
|Ogden - Weber Applied Technology College||Ogden||UT||1231|
|Ohio Valley College of Technology||East Liverpool||OH||116|
|Olympia Career Training Institute - Grand Rapids||Grand Rapids||MI||279|
|Olympia Career Training Institute - Kalamazoo||Kalamazoo||MI||132|
|Omaha College of Health Careers||Omaha||NE||269|
|Orange Coast College||Costa Mesa||CA||23315|
|Oswego County Boces||Mexico||NY||42|
|Ozarks Technical Community College||Springfield||MO||6343|
|Palm Beach Community College||Lake Worth||FL||17326|
|Palomar College||San Marcos||CA||21062|
|Pasadena City College||Pasadena||CA||22948|
|Pasco - Hernando Community College||New Port Richey||FL||5165|
|Pearl River Community College||Poplarville||MS||2800|
|Penn Valley Community College||Kansas City||MO||4366|
|Pensacola Junior College||Pensacola||FL||9985|
|Pikes Peak Community College||Colorado Springs||CO||9997|
|Pima Community College||Tucson||AZ||28078|
|Pima Medical Institute||Mesa||AZ||422|
|Pima Medical Institute||Tucson||AZ||364|
|Pima Medical Institute||Chula Vista||CA||159|
|Pima Medical Institute||Denver||CO||288|
|Pima Medical Institute||Albuquerque||NM||385|
|Pima Medical Institute||Seattle||WA||297|
|Pinellas Technical Education Center||Saint Petersburg||FL||1232|
|Pinnacle Career Centers||Houston||TX||181|
|Pitt Community College||Winterville||NC||4973|
|Platt College||Oklahoma City||OK||273|
|Polaris Career Center||Middleburg Heights||OH||47|
|Porter and Chester Institute||Enfield||CT||104|
|Portland Community College||Portland||OR||24209|
|Professional Careers Institute||Indianapolis||IN||462|
|Pueblo Community College||Pueblo||CO||4654|
|Pulaski Technical College||North Little Rock||AR||893|
|Quinsigamond Community College||Worcester||MA||5617|
|Randolph Community College||Asheboro||NC||1951|
|Renton Technical College||Renton||WA||5065|