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.
|York Technical College||Rock Hill||SC||3597|
|Wilson Technical Community College||Wilson||NC||1596|
|Wilkes Community College||Wilkesboro||NC||2127|
|Wichita Area Technical College||Wichita||KS||3373|
|Westmoreland County Community College||Youngwood||PA||5272|
|Western Wisconsin Technical College||La Crosse||WI||4928|
|Western Technology Center||Burns Flat||OK||179|
|Western Piedmont Community College||Morganton||NC||2248|
|Western Iowa Tech Community College||Sioux City||IA||4365|
|Western Career College||San Leandro||CA||345|
|Western Career College||Pleasant Hill||CA||200|
|Western Career College||Sacramento||CA||574|
|West Kentucky Technical College||Paducah||KY||1518|
|Wayne County Community College District||Detroit||MI||9008|
|Wayne Community College||Goldsboro||NC||2958|
|Waukesha County Technical College||Pewaukee||WI||7943|
|Washtenaw Community College||Ann Arbor||MI||11089|
|Washington County Adult Skill Center||Abingdon||VA||231|
|Wake Technical Community College||Raleigh||NC||9654|
|Volunteer State Community College||Gallatin||TN||6567|
|Vet Tech Institute||Pittsburgh||PA||272|
|Valdosta Technical College||Valdosta||GA||2049|
|University of Southern Indiana||Evansville||IN||9012|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill||NC||24892|
|University of New Mexico - Gallup Campus||Gallup||NM||2594|
|University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey||Newark||NJ||4666|
|University of Maine at Augusta||Augusta||ME||5617|
|University of Alaska Anchorage||Anchorage||AK||14794|
|Union County College||Cranford||NJ||8655|
|Ulster County Boces School of Practical Nursing||Port Ewen||NY||74|
|Uei College - Van Nuys||Van Nuys||CA||152|
|Uei College - San Diego||San Diego||CA||152|
|Uei College - Ontario||Ontario||CA||152|
|Uei College - Huntington Park||Huntington Park||CA||152|
|Tunxis Community College||Farmington||CT||3412|
|Tulsa Technology Center - Lemley Campus||Tulsa||OK||243|
|Tulsa Community College||Tulsa||OK||16270|
|Truckee Meadows Community College||Reno||NV||9930|
|Trident Technical College||Charleston||SC||10246|
|Tri - County Technical College||Pendleton||SC||3612|
|Traviss Career Center||Lakeland||FL||4380|
|Tidewater Tech||Newport News||VA||306|
|The Institute for Health Education||Fairfield||NJ||22|
|The Academy of Health Care Professions||Houston||TX||293|
|Texas State Technical College - Waco||Waco||TX||3814|
|Texas State Technical College - Harlingen||Harlingen||TX||3265|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville||Shelbyville||TN||323|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Murfreesboro||Murfreesboro||TN||152|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis||Memphis||TN||604|
|Tennessee Technology Center at Knoxville||Knoxville||TN||779|
|Tarrant County College||Fort Worth||TX||26868|
|Tallahassee Community College||Tallahassee||FL||10816|
|T H Pickens Technical Center||Aurora||CO||765|
|Swainsboro Technical College||Swainsboro||GA||775|
|Surry Community College||Dobson||NC||2946|
|Springfield Technical Community College||Springfield||MA||6705|
|Spokane Community College||Spokane||WA||7767|
|Spartanburg Technical College||Spartanburg||SC||3030|
|Southern California International College - Brea||Brea||CA||111|
|Southeastern Technical Institute||South Easton||MA||147|
|Southeastern Community College||Whiteville||NC||1883|
|Southeast Community College Area||Lincoln||NE||7396|
|South Puget Sound Community College||Olympia||WA||4442|
|South Central College||North Mankato||MN||3220|
|Somerset County Technology Institute||Bridgewater||NJ||532|
|Simi Valley Adult School and Career Institute||Simi Valley||CA||5902|
|Siena Heights University||Adrian||MI||1972|
|Seattle Vocational Institute||Seattle||WA||398|
|Scioto County Joint Vocational School District||Lucasville||OH||724|
|Schuylkill Technology Centers||Frackville||PA||123|
|Savannah Technical College||Savannah||GA||2048|
|Santa Rosa Junior College||Santa Rosa||CA||27020|
|Santa Fe Community College||Gainesville||FL||12464|
|San Jose City College||San Jose||CA||11295|
|San Joaquin Valley College - Visalia||Visalia||CA||627|
|San Joaquin Valley College - Fresno||Fresno||CA||669|
|San Joaquin Valley College - Bakersfield||Bakersfield||CA||742|
|San Diego Mesa College||San Diego||CA||21233|
|San Antonio College of Medical and Dental Assistants - Mcallen||Mcallen||TX||680|
|San Antonio College of Medical and Dental Assistants - Main||San Antonio||TX||734|
|San Antonio College||San Antonio||TX||19253|
|Salina Area Technical School||Salina||KS||310|
|Saint Louis Community College - Forest Park||Saint Louis||MO||6749|
|Saint Cloud Technical College||Saint Cloud||MN||2949|
|Sacramento City College||Sacramento||CA||20878|
|Rowan - Cabarrus Community College||Salisbury||NC||4469|
|Rose State College||Midwest City||OK||7471|
|Rochester Community and Technical College||Rochester||MN||4778|
|Robeson Community College||Lumberton||NC||1843|
|Robert Morgan Educational Center||Miami||FL||1075|
|Renton Technical College||Renton||WA||5065|
|Randolph Community College||Asheboro||NC||1951|
|Quinsigamond Community College||Worcester||MA||5617|
|Pulaski Technical College||North Little Rock||AR||893|
|Pueblo Community College||Pueblo||CO||4654|