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
Lorenzo Walker Institute of Technology Naples FL 1607
Lower Columbia College Longview WA 3248
Luna Community College Las Vegas NM 973
Luzerne County Community College Nanticoke PA 5920
Madison Area Technical College Madison WI 14474
Madison Oneida Boces - Continuing Education Verona NY 652
Manatee Technical Institute Bradenton FL 2721
Mandl School New York NY 680
Manor College Jenkintown PA 684
Marshalltown Community College Marshalltown IA 2198
Massasoit Community College Brockton MA 6706
Medical Careers Institute Newport News VA 379
Medina County Career Center Medina OH 584
Medix Schools Smyrna GA 389
Medix Schools Towson MD 487
Mercer County Technical Education Center Princeton WV 68
Metro Technology Centers Oklahoma City OK 434
Metropolitan Community College Area Omaha NE 11534
Miami Technical Institute Miami FL 489
Mid Michigan Community College Harrison MI 2316
Mid Plains Community College North Platte NE 2607
Middlesex Community College Bedford MA 7451
Midlands Technical College West Columbia SC 9702
Midstate College Peoria IL 324
Midwest Institute Kirkwood MO 78
Milwaukee Area Technical College Milwaukee WI 14296
Minneapolis Community and Technical College Minneapolis MN 6363
Minnesota School of Business - Brooklyn Center Brooklyn Center MN 306
Minnesota State Community Technical College - Moorhead Moorhead MN No Data
Minnesota West Community and Technical College Granite Falls MN 3296
Missouri College Saint Louis MO 544
Monroe Community College Rochester NY 15315
Monterey Peninsula College Monterey CA 9421
Moore Norman Technology Center Norman OK 209
Mott Community College Flint MI 8659
Mount Ida College Newton MA 1196
Mt Diablo Adult Education Concord CA 637
National Institute of Technology Houston TX 345
New Hampshire Technical Institute Concord NH 2809
New York School for Medical and Dental Assistants Long Island City NY 298
Niagara County Community College Sanborn NY 4641
Nichols Career Center Jefferson City MO 88
Normandale Community College Bloomington MN 7347
North - West College - Pasadena Pasadena CA 73
North - West College - Pomona Pomona CA 149
North - West College - West Covina West Covina CA 187
North Central Michigan College Petoskey MI 2196
North Dakota State College of Science Wahpeton ND 2425
North Hennepin Community College Brooklyn Park MN 5261
Northampton County Area Community College Bethlehem PA 4797
Northeast Iowa Community College - Calmar Calmar IA 3480
Northeast Wisconsin Technical College Green Bay WI 7500
Northern Essex Community College Haverhill MA 6580
Northwest Technical College Bemidji MN 4638
Northwestern Michigan College Traverse City MI 3965
Oakland Community College - Bloomfield Hills Campus Bloomfield Hills MI 23188
Ocean County Vocational - Technical School Toms River NJ 177
Ogden - Weber Applied Technology College Ogden UT 1231
Ohio Valley College of Technology East Liverpool OH 116
Olympia Career Training Institute - Grand Rapids Grand Rapids MI 279
Olympia Career Training Institute - Kalamazoo Kalamazoo MI 132
Omaha College of Health Careers Omaha NE 269
Orange Coast College Costa Mesa CA 23315
Orlando Tech Orlando FL 636
Oswego County Boces Mexico NY 42
Ozarks Technical Community College Springfield MO 6343
Palm Beach Community College Lake Worth FL 17326
Palomar College San Marcos CA 21062
Parkland College Champaign IL 8026
Pasadena City College Pasadena CA 22948
Pasco - Hernando Community College New Port Richey FL 5165
Pearl River Community College Poplarville MS 2800
Penn Valley Community College Kansas City MO 4366
Pensacola Junior College Pensacola FL 9985
Phoenix College Phoenix AZ 12386
Pikes Peak Community College Colorado Springs CO 9997
Pima Community College Tucson AZ 28078
Pima Medical Institute Mesa AZ 422
Pima Medical Institute Tucson AZ 364
Pima Medical Institute Chula Vista CA 159
Pima Medical Institute Albuquerque NM 385
Pima Medical Institute Denver CO 288
Pima Medical Institute Seattle WA 297
Pinellas Technical Education Center Saint Petersburg FL 1232
Pinnacle Career Centers Houston TX 181
Pitt Community College Winterville NC 4973
Platt College Tulsa OK 709
Platt College Oklahoma City OK 273
Platt College Lawton OK 86
Polaris Career Center Middleburg Heights OH 47
Porter and Chester Institute Enfield CT 104
Portland Community College Portland OR 24209
Professional Careers Institute Indianapolis IN 462
Provo College Provo UT 464
Pueblo Community College Pueblo CO 4654
Pulaski Technical College North Little Rock AR 893
Quinsigamond Community College Worcester MA 5617
Randolph Community College Asheboro NC 1951
Reedley College Reedley CA 9081
Renton Technical College Renton WA 5065
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