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.
|Robert Morgan Educational Center||Miami||FL||1075|
|Robeson Community College||Lumberton||NC||1843|
|Rochester Community and Technical College||Rochester||MN||4778|
|Rose State College||Midwest City||OK||7471|
|Rowan - Cabarrus Community College||Salisbury||NC||4469|
|Sacramento City College||Sacramento||CA||20878|
|Saint Cloud Technical College||Saint Cloud||MN||2949|
|Saint Louis Community College - Forest Park||Saint Louis||MO||6749|
|Salina Area Technical School||Salina||KS||310|
|San Antonio College||San Antonio||TX||19253|
|San Antonio College of Medical and Dental Assistants - Main||San Antonio||TX||734|
|San Antonio College of Medical and Dental Assistants - Mcallen||Mcallen||TX||680|
|San Diego Mesa College||San Diego||CA||21233|
|San Joaquin Valley College - Bakersfield||Bakersfield||CA||742|
|San Joaquin Valley College - Fresno||Fresno||CA||669|
|San Joaquin Valley College - Visalia||Visalia||CA||627|
|San Jose City College||San Jose||CA||11295|
|Santa Fe Community College||Gainesville||FL||12464|
|Santa Rosa Junior College||Santa Rosa||CA||27020|
|Savannah Technical College||Savannah||GA||2048|
|Schuylkill Technology Centers||Frackville||PA||123|
|Scioto County Joint Vocational School District||Lucasville||OH||724|
|Seattle Vocational Institute||Seattle||WA||398|
|Siena Heights University||Adrian||MI||1972|
|Simi Valley Adult School and Career Institute||Simi Valley||CA||5902|
|Somerset County Technology Institute||Bridgewater||NJ||532|
|South Central College||North Mankato||MN||3220|
|South Puget Sound Community College||Olympia||WA||4442|
|Southeast Community College Area||Lincoln||NE||7396|
|Southeastern Community College||Whiteville||NC||1883|
|Southeastern Technical Institute||South Easton||MA||147|
|Southern California International College - Brea||Brea||CA||111|
|Spartanburg Technical College||Spartanburg||SC||3030|
|Spokane Community College||Spokane||WA||7767|
|Springfield Technical Community College||Springfield||MA||6705|
|Surry Community College||Dobson||NC||2946|
|Swainsboro Technical College||Swainsboro||GA||775|
|T H Pickens Technical Center||Aurora||CO||765|
|Tallahassee Community College||Tallahassee||FL||10816|
|Tarrant County College||Fort Worth||TX||26868|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Knoxville||Knoxville||TN||779|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis||Memphis||TN||604|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Murfreesboro||Murfreesboro||TN||152|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville||Shelbyville||TN||323|
|Texas State Technical College - Harlingen||Harlingen||TX||3265|
|Texas State Technical College - Waco||Waco||TX||3814|
|The Academy of Health Care Professions||Houston||TX||293|
|The Institute for Health Education||Fairfield||NJ||22|
|Tidewater Tech||Newport News||VA||306|
|Traviss Career Center||Lakeland||FL||4380|
|Tri - County Technical College||Pendleton||SC||3612|
|Trident Technical College||Charleston||SC||10246|
|Truckee Meadows Community College||Reno||NV||9930|
|Tulsa Community College||Tulsa||OK||16270|
|Tulsa Technology Center - Lemley Campus||Tulsa||OK||243|
|Tunxis Community College||Farmington||CT||3412|
|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|
|Ulster County Boces School of Practical Nursing||Port Ewen||NY||74|
|Union County College||Cranford||NJ||8655|
|University of Alaska Anchorage||Anchorage||AK||14794|
|University of Maine at Augusta||Augusta||ME||5617|
|University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey||Newark||NJ||4666|
|University of New Mexico - Gallup Campus||Gallup||NM||2594|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill||NC||24892|
|University of Southern Indiana||Evansville||IN||9012|
|Valdosta Technical College||Valdosta||GA||2049|
|Vet Tech Institute||Pittsburgh||PA||272|
|Volunteer State Community College||Gallatin||TN||6567|
|Wake Technical Community College||Raleigh||NC||9654|
|Washington County Adult Skill Center||Abingdon||VA||231|
|Washtenaw Community College||Ann Arbor||MI||11089|
|Waukesha County Technical College||Pewaukee||WI||7943|
|Wayne Community College||Goldsboro||NC||2958|
|Wayne County Community College District||Detroit||MI||9008|
|West Kentucky Technical College||Paducah||KY||1518|
|Western Career College||San Leandro||CA||345|
|Western Career College||Pleasant Hill||CA||200|
|Western Career College||Sacramento||CA||574|
|Western Iowa Tech Community College||Sioux City||IA||4365|
|Western Piedmont Community College||Morganton||NC||2248|
|Western Technology Center||Burns Flat||OK||179|
|Western Wisconsin Technical College||La Crosse||WI||4928|
|Westmoreland County Community College||Youngwood||PA||5272|
|Wichita Area Technical College||Wichita||KS||3373|
|Wilkes Community College||Wilkesboro||NC||2127|
|Wilson Technical Community College||Wilson||NC||1596|
|York Technical College||Rock Hill||SC||3597|