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
Domestic Health Care Institute Baton Rouge LA 42
Duluth Business University Dultuh MN 267
Durham Technical Community College Durham NC 4915
East Central College Union MO 3190
East Los Angeles Occupational Center Los Angeles CA 2986
East Tennessee State University Johnson City TN 11063
Eastern College of Health Vocations Little Rock AR 292
Eastern Idaho Technical College Idaho Falls ID 595
Eastern Iowa Community College District Davenport IA 6179
Eastern School of Technology Virginia Beach VA 197
Eastland - Fairfield Career and Technical Schools Groveport OH 164
Edison College Fort Myers FL 8919
El Paso Community College El Paso TX 18001
Elgin Community College Elgin IL 10174
Emily Griffith Opportunity School Denver CO 7377
Essex County College Newark NJ 8868
Eton Technical Institute Federal Way WA 101
Everest College - Anaheim Anaheim CA 964
Everest College - City of Industry City Of Industry CA 352
Everest College - Everett Everett WA 345
Everest College - Los Angeles Los Angeles CA 420
Everest College - Ontario Ontario CA 294
Everest College - Renton Renton WA 321
Everest College - Reseda Reseda CA 1098
Everest College - San Francisco San Francisco CA 394
Everest College - West Los Angeles Los Angeles CA 318
Fayetteville Technical Community College Fayetteville NC 8310
Flint Hills Technical College Emporia KS 391
Florence - Darlington Technical College Florence SC 3814
Florida Community College at Jacksonville Jacksonville FL 20838
Foothill College Los Altos Hills CA 14193
Forbes Road Career and Technology Center Monroeville PA 42
Forsyth Technical Community College Winston Salem NC 5860
Fox Valley Technical College Appleton WI 6806
Francis Tuttle Technology Center Oklahoma City OK 821
Front Range Community College Westminster CO 12962
Galen College of Medical and Dental Assistants Modesto CA 137
Galen College of Medical and Dental Assistants Visalia CA 34
Galen College of Medical and Dental Assistants Fresno CA 141
Gateway Technical College Kenosha WI 5741
George C Wallace State Community College - Hanceville Hanceville AL 4696
Georgia Perimeter College Decatur GA 13708
Grand Rapids Community College Grand Rapids MI 13400
Grayson County College Denison TX 3318
Great Lakes Institute of Technology Erie PA 277
Greenville Technical College Greenville SC 10786
Guilford Technical Community College Jamestown NC 8008
Gulf Coast Community College Panama City FL 5341
Gwinnett Technical College Lawrenceville GA 4814
H Councill Trenholm State Technical College Montgomery AL 663
Hacienda La Puente Unified School District - Adult Education City Of Industry CA 2030
Halifax Community College Weldon NC 1308
Harcum College Bryn Mawr PA 545
Harrisburg Area Community College - Harrisburg Harrisburg PA 7572
Harrison Career Institute - Delran Delran NJ 127
Hawkeye Community College Waterloo IA 4263
Haywood Community College Clyde NC 1653
Hennepin Technical College Brooklyn Park MN 5843
Heritage College Denver CO 271
Hialeah Technical Institute Hialeah FL 484
Hibbing Community College - A Technical and Community College Hibbing MN 3143
High - Tech Institute - Sacramento Sacramento CA 338
Highline Community College Des Moines WA 6327
Hinds Community College Raymond MS 16032
Houston Community College System Houston TX 40929
Huntington Institute Incorporated Norwich CT 95
Huntington Junior College Huntington WV 463
Illinois Central College East Peoria IL 11053
Illinois School of Health Careers Chicago IL 73
Illinois Valley Community College Oglesby IL 3794
Indian River Community College Fort Pierce FL 13186
Indiana University - Northwest Gary IN 4649
Indiana University - Purdue University - Fort Wayne Fort Wayne IN 10531
Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis Indianapolis IN 27525
Indiana University - South Bend South Bend IN 7252
Institute of Medical - Dental Technology Cincinnati OH 158
Iowa Western Community College Council Bluffs IA 4503
Ivy Tech Community College - Lafayette Lafayette IN 3013
James H Faulkner State Community College Bay Minette AL 2775
Jefferson Community College Steubenville OH 1482
Jefferson Technical College Louisville KY 1512
John A Logan College Carterville IL 7675
John C Calhoun State Community College Tanner AL 7719
Kaskaskia College Centralia IL 2676
Kee Business College Chesapeake VA 568
Kirkwood Community College Cedar Rapids IA 11645
Kirtland Community College Roscommon MI 1307
Lake Area Technical Institute Watertown SD 571
Lake Michigan College Benton Harbor MI 3411
Lake Washington Technical College Kirkland WA 3917
Lakeland Medical Dental Academy Inc - Division of Herzing College Minneapolis MN 286
Lakeshore Technical College Cleveland WI 2742
Lancaster County Career and Technology Center Willow Street PA 147
Lane Community College Eugene OR 9957
Lanier Technical College Oakwood GA 1987
Lansing Community College Lansing MI 16011
Lawson State Community College - Bessemer Campus Bessemer AL 1314
Lewis and Clark Community College Godfrey IL 6629
Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center Miami FL 275
Linn - Benton Community College Albany OR 4443
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