Dental Assistant

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.

Degrees in Dental Assisting

Vocational Certificates

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:

  • Preclinical Dental Hygiene
  • General & Oral Pathology
  • Dental Hygiene Theory

What can you do with a certificate or diploma in Dental Assisting?

  • Dental Assistant
  • Chairside Dental Assistant
  • Hygiene Assistant

Associate Degrees

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:

  • Dental Chairside Assisting
  • Dental Radiology Lab
  • Principles of Communication

What careers are open to DAs with associate degrees?

  • Dental Hygienist
  • Expanded Duties Dental Assistant
  • Oral Surgery Assistant

Bachelor 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:

  • Computer Applications in Modern Dentistry
  • Dental Psychology
  • Dental Pharmacological Pain Control

What can a dental assistant with a bachelor's degree work as?

  • Dental Assisting Instructor
  • Dental Supply Coordinator
  • Dental Office Manager

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We found 393 schools offering dental assistant degree programs in the U.S.

>> See all 393 Dental Assistant Colleges in the U.S.

Dental Assistant Schools By Total Enrollment

Community College of the Air Force
Montgomery, AL  |  Total Enrollment: 378162

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Associate's
Houston Community College System
Houston, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 40929

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years
City College of San Francisco
San Francisco, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 39386

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years
Community College of Southern Nevada
North Las Vegas, NV  |  Total Enrollment: 29905

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years
Pima Community College
Tucson, AZ  |  Total Enrollment: 28078

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis
Indianapolis, IN  |  Total Enrollment: 27525

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Broward Community College
Fort Lauderdale, FL  |  Total Enrollment: 27389

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
Santa Rosa Junior College
Santa Rosa, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 27020

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years
Tarrant County College
Fort Worth, TX  |  Total Enrollment: 26868

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC  |  Total Enrollment: 24892

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree

Browse All 393 Colleges With Dental Assistant Programs

Title City State Enrollment
University of Alaska Anchorage Anchorage AK 14794
Community College of the Air Force Montgomery AL 378162
George C Wallace State Community College - Hanceville Hanceville AL 4696
H Councill Trenholm State Technical College Montgomery AL 663
James H Faulkner State Community College Bay Minette AL 2775
John C Calhoun State Community College Tanner AL 7719
Lawson State Community College - Bessemer Campus Bessemer AL 1314
Eastern College of Health Vocations Little Rock AR 292
Pulaski Technical College North Little Rock AR 893
Pima Medical Institute Mesa AZ 422
Phoenix College Phoenix AZ 12386
Pima Community College Tucson AZ 28078
Pima Medical Institute Tucson AZ 364
American Career College Los Angeles CA 1383
Central California School San Luis Obispo CA 206
Clarita Career College Canyon Country CA 177
Concorde Career College San Bernardino CA 551
Concorde Career College North Hollywood CA 444
Concorde Career College Garden Grove CA 478
Concorde Career Institute San Diego CA 552
Desert Career College Palm Springs CA 82
Everest College - Anaheim Anaheim CA 964
Everest College - Los Angeles Los Angeles CA 420
Everest College - Ontario Ontario CA 294
Everest College - Reseda Reseda CA 1098
Everest College - San Francisco San Francisco CA 394
Galen College of Medical and Dental Assistants Modesto CA 137
Galen College of Medical and Dental Assistants Visalia CA 34
Allan Hancock College Santa Maria CA 12110
College of Alameda Alameda CA 5088
Galen College of Medical and Dental Assistants Fresno CA 141
High - Tech Institute - Sacramento Sacramento CA 338
Cerritos College Norwalk CA 24536
Mt Diablo Adult Education Concord CA 637
North - West College - Pasadena Pasadena CA 73
North - West College - Pomona Pomona CA 149
North - West College - West Covina West Covina CA 187
Chaffey College Rancho Cucamonga CA 15220
College of Marin Kentfield CA 8317
Pima Medical Institute Chula Vista CA 159
Southern California International College - Brea Brea CA 111
Citrus College Glendora CA 11486
College of the Redwoods Eureka CA 6986
Uei College - Huntington Park Huntington Park CA 152
Uei College - Ontario Ontario CA 152
City College of San Francisco San Francisco CA 39386
Uei College - San Diego San Diego CA 152
Uei College - Van Nuys Van Nuys CA 152
Western Career College San Leandro CA 345
Western Career College Pleasant Hill CA 200
College of San Mateo San Mateo CA 10756
Contra Costa College San Pablo CA 7133
Cypress College Cypress CA 21361
Diablo Valley College Pleasant Hill CA 21581
East Los Angeles Occupational Center Los Angeles CA 2986
Everest College - City of Industry City Of Industry CA 352
Everest College - West Los Angeles Los Angeles CA 318
Foothill College Los Altos Hills CA 14193
Hacienda La Puente Unified School District - Adult Education City Of Industry CA 2030
Monterey Peninsula College Monterey CA 9421
Orange Coast College Costa Mesa CA 23315
Palomar College San Marcos CA 21062
Reedley College Reedley CA 9081
San Joaquin Valley College - Bakersfield Bakersfield CA 742
Pasadena City College Pasadena CA 22948
Sacramento City College Sacramento CA 20878
San Diego Mesa College San Diego CA 21233
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 Rosa Junior College Santa Rosa CA 27020
Simi Valley Adult School and Career Institute Simi Valley CA 5902
Western Career College Sacramento CA 574
Cambridge College - Aurora Aurora CO 426
Concorde Career Institute Aurora CO 321
Heritage College Denver CO 271
Emily Griffith Opportunity School Denver CO 7377
Front Range Community College Westminster CO 12962
Pikes Peak Community College Colorado Springs CO 9997
Pima Medical Institute Denver CO 288
Pueblo Community College Pueblo CO 4654
T H Pickens Technical Center Aurora CO 765
Huntington Institute Incorporated Norwich CT 95
Porter and Chester Institute Enfield CT 104
Briarwood College Southington CT 518
Tunxis Community College Farmington CT 3412
Compu - Med Vocational Careers Corp Hialeah FL 96
Concorde Career Institute Lauderdale Lakes FL 349
Concorde Career Institute Jacksonville FL 276
Concorde Career Institute Tampa FL 481
Hialeah Technical Institute Hialeah FL 484
Miami Technical Institute Miami FL 489
Charlotte Technical Center Port Charlotte FL 1276
D G Erwin Technical Center Tampa FL 853
Daytona Beach Community College Daytona Beach FL 10420
Brevard Community College Cocoa FL 13265
Broward Community College Fort Lauderdale FL 27389
Edison College Fort Myers FL 8919
Florida Community College at Jacksonville Jacksonville FL 20838
Gulf Coast Community College Panama City FL 5341
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