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.
|Academy of Careers and Technology||Beckley||WV||320|
|Academy of Health Care Professions||Austin||TX||No Data|
|Academy of Medical Arts and Business||Harrisburg||PA||213|
|Aiken Technical College||Graniteville||SC||2268|
|Akron Institute - A Division of Herzing Ohio Inc||Akron||OH||172|
|Alamance Community College||Graham||NC||3414|
|Albany Technical College||Albany||GA||2444|
|Allan Hancock College||Santa Maria||CA||12110|
|Allied College - Maryland Heights||Maryland Heights||MO||406|
|Allied Health Careers||Austin||TX||200|
|Altoona Area Vocational Technical School||Altoona||PA||154|
|American Career College||Los Angeles||CA||1383|
|American Institute of Medical - Dental Technology||Provo||UT||360|
|American Institute of Medical - Dental Technology||Saint George||UT||100|
|Asheville Buncombe Technical Community College||Asheville||NC||4940|
|Atlanta Technical College||Atlanta||GA||2884|
|Atlantic County Vocational Technical School||Mays Landing||NJ||175|
|Augusta Technical College||Augusta||GA||3265|
|Autry Technology Center||Enid||OK||208|
|Bates Technical College||Tacoma||WA||14808|
|Bay De Noc Community College||Escanaba||MI||2073|
|Beaufort County Community College||Washington||NC||1366|
|Bellingham Technical College||Bellingham||WA||3682|
|Berks Technical Institute||Wyomissing||PA||693|
|Black Hawk College||Moline||IL||6118|
|Blackhawk Technical College||Janesville||WI||2472|
|Blue Mountain Community College||Pendleton||OR||1934|
|Boise State University||Boise||ID||16287|
|Brevard Community College||Cocoa||FL||13265|
|Bridgerland Applied Technology College||Logan||UT||304|
|Broward Community College||Fort Lauderdale||FL||27389|
|Cambridge College - Aurora||Aurora||CO||426|
|Camden County College||Blackwood||NJ||12131|
|Camden County Vocational and Technical Schools||Sicklerville||NJ||1120|
|Cape Fear Community College||Wilmington||NC||5470|
|Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center||Cape Girardeau||MO||169|
|Career Centers of Texas - El Paso||El Paso||TX||883|
|Carver Career Center||Charleston||WV||212|
|Central California School||San Luis Obispo||CA||206|
|Central Carolina Community College||Sanford||NC||4113|
|Central Community College||Grand Island||NE||7126|
|Central Kentucky Technical College||Lexington||KY||1501|
|Central Lakes College - Brainerd||Brainerd||MN||3138|
|Central Oregon Community College||Bend||OR||4079|
|Central Piedmont Community College||Charlotte||NC||14908|
|Century Community and Technical College||White Bear Lake||MN||6937|
|Chaffey College||Rancho Cucamonga||CA||15220|
|Charlotte Technical Center||Port Charlotte||FL||1276|
|Chemeketa Community College||Salem||OR||9650|
|Chippewa Valley Technical College||Eau Claire||WI||4503|
|Choffin Career and Technical Center||Youngstown||OH||453|
|City College of San Francisco||San Francisco||CA||39386|
|Clarita Career College||Canyon Country||CA||177|
|Cleveland Community College||Shelby||NC||2225|
|Cleveland Institute of Dental - Medical Assistants||Cleveland||OH||92|
|Cleveland Institute of Dental - Medical Assistants||Mentor||OH||94|
|Clover Park Technical College||Lakewood||WA||7921|
|Coastal Carolina Community College||Jacksonville||NC||3780|
|College of Alameda||Alameda||CA||5088|
|College of Marin||Kentfield||CA||8317|
|College of San Mateo||San Mateo||CA||10756|
|College of Southern Idaho||Twin Falls||ID||5452|
|College of the Redwoods||Eureka||CA||6986|
|Columbia Basin College||Pasco||WA||5714|
|Columbia University in the City of New York||New York||NY||19639|
|Community College of Philadelphia||Philadelphia||PA||15953|
|Community College of Rhode Island||Warwick||RI||15583|
|Community College of Southern Nevada||North Las Vegas||NV||29905|
|Community College of the Air Force||Montgomery||AL||378162|
|Compu - Med Vocational Careers Corp||Hialeah||FL||96|
|Concorde Career College||San Bernardino||CA||551|
|Concorde Career College||North Hollywood||CA||444|
|Concorde Career College||Garden Grove||CA||478|
|Concorde Career College||Memphis||TN||755|
|Concorde Career Institute||San Diego||CA||552|
|Concorde Career Institute||Aurora||CO||321|
|Concorde Career Institute||Lauderdale Lakes||FL||349|
|Concorde Career Institute||Jacksonville||FL||276|
|Concorde Career Institute||Tampa||FL||481|
|Concorde Career Institute||Kansas City||MO||320|
|Concorde Career Institute||Portland||OR||453|
|Contra Costa College||San Pablo||CA||7133|
|D G Erwin Technical Center||Tampa||FL||853|
|Dakota County Technical College||Rosemount||MN||3086|
|Davis Applied Technology College||Kaysville||UT||324|
|Daytona Beach Community College||Daytona Beach||FL||10420|
|Del Mar College||Corpus Christi||TX||9936|
|Delaware Valley Academy of Medical and Dental Assistants||Philadelphia||PA||208|
|Delta College||University Center||MI||9358|
|Des Moines Area Community College||Ankeny||IA||10998|
|Desert Career College||Palm Springs||CA||82|
|Diablo Valley College||Pleasant Hill||CA||21581|