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
Robert Morgan Educational Center Miami FL 1075
Robeson Community College Lumberton NC 1843
Rochester Community and Technical College Rochester MN 4778
Rose State College Midwest City OK 7471
Rowan - Cabarrus Community College Salisbury NC 4469
Sacramento City College Sacramento CA 20878
Saint Cloud Technical College Saint Cloud MN 2949
Saint Louis Community College - Forest Park Saint Louis MO 6749
Salina Area Technical School Salina KS 310
San Antonio College San Antonio TX 19253
San Antonio College of Medical and Dental Assistants - Main San Antonio TX 734
San Antonio College of Medical and Dental Assistants - Mcallen Mcallen TX 680
San Diego Mesa College San Diego CA 21233
San Joaquin Valley College - Bakersfield Bakersfield CA 742
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 Fe Community College Gainesville FL 12464
Santa Rosa Junior College Santa Rosa CA 27020
Savannah Technical College Savannah GA 2048
Schuylkill Technology Centers Frackville PA 123
Scioto County Joint Vocational School District Lucasville OH 724
Seattle Vocational Institute Seattle WA 398
Sheridan College Sheridan WY 2674
Siena Heights University Adrian MI 1972
Simi Valley Adult School and Career Institute Simi Valley CA 5902
Somerset County Technology Institute Bridgewater NJ 532
South Central College North Mankato MN 3220
South Puget Sound Community College Olympia WA 4442
Southeast Community College Area Lincoln NE 7396
Southeastern Community College Whiteville NC 1883
Southeastern Technical Institute South Easton MA 147
Southern California International College - Brea Brea CA 111
Southern College Orlando FL 318
Spartanburg Technical College Spartanburg SC 3030
Spokane Community College Spokane WA 7767
Springfield Technical Community College Springfield MA 6705
Surry Community College Dobson NC 2946
Swainsboro Technical College Swainsboro GA 775
T H Pickens Technical Center Aurora CO 765
Tallahassee Community College Tallahassee FL 10816
Tarrant County College Fort Worth TX 26868
Tennessee Technology Center at Knoxville Knoxville TN 779
Tennessee Technology Center at Memphis Memphis TN 604
Tennessee Technology Center at Murfreesboro Murfreesboro TN 152
Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville Shelbyville TN 323
Texas State Technical College - Harlingen Harlingen TX 3265
Texas State Technical College - Waco Waco TX 3814
The Academy of Health Care Professions Houston TX 293
The Institute for Health Education Fairfield NJ 22
Tidewater Tech Norfolk VA 452
Tidewater Tech Newport News VA 306
Traviss Career Center Lakeland FL 4380
Tri - County Technical College Pendleton SC 3612
Trident Technical College Charleston SC 10246
Truckee Meadows Community College Reno NV 9930
Tulsa Community College Tulsa OK 16270
Tulsa Technology Center - Lemley Campus Tulsa OK 243
Tunxis Community College Farmington CT 3412
Uei College - Huntington Park Huntington Park CA 152
Uei College - Ontario Ontario CA 152
Uei College - San Diego San Diego CA 152
Uei College - Van Nuys Van Nuys CA 152
Ulster County Boces School of Practical Nursing Port Ewen NY 74
Union County College Cranford NJ 8655
University of Alaska Anchorage Anchorage AK 14794
University of Maine at Augusta Augusta ME 5617
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey Newark NJ 4666
University of New Mexico - Gallup Campus Gallup NM 2594
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Chapel Hill NC 24892
University of Southern Indiana Evansville IN 9012
Valdosta Technical College Valdosta GA 2049
Vet Tech Institute Pittsburgh PA 272
Volunteer State Community College Gallatin TN 6567
Wake Technical Community College Raleigh NC 9654
Washington County Adult Skill Center Abingdon VA 231
Washtenaw Community College Ann Arbor MI 11089
Waukesha County Technical College Pewaukee WI 7943
Wayne Community College Goldsboro NC 2958
Wayne County Community College District Detroit MI 9008
West Kentucky Technical College Paducah KY 1518
Western Career College San Leandro CA 345
Western Career College Pleasant Hill CA 200
Western Career College Sacramento CA 574
Western Iowa Tech Community College Sioux City IA 4365
Western Piedmont Community College Morganton NC 2248
Western Technology Center Burns Flat OK 179
Western Wisconsin Technical College La Crosse WI 4928
Westmoreland County Community College Youngwood PA 5272
Wichita Area Technical College Wichita KS 3373
Wilkes Community College Wilkesboro NC 2127
Wilson Technical Community College Wilson NC 1596
York Technical College Rock Hill SC 3597
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