Are you interested in learning how to become a dental assistant?
There are many factors to consider when determining whether it’s the right career choice for you, including the education needed to be a dental assistant. It’s important to understand how long it takes to become a dental assistant before you invest in dental assistant schooling.
This article outlines what you need to become a dental assistant, including dental assistant school requirements.
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Dental Assistant?
There are several paths available to becoming a dental assistant, but whether you’re required to earn a degree varies by state. For example, some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. Other states require no postsecondary training or certification, and allow dental assistants to learn on the job.
What You Need to Become a Dental Assistant: Step-by-Step
The time it takes to become a dental assistant depends on the educational path you choose.
Step 1: Receive Your GED or High School Diploma
(3 months to 4 years)
The first step toward a career in dental assisting is to earn your high school diploma or recognized equivalent (GED). Taking career-relevant courses such as anatomy, biology, and chemistry will help provide a foundation to learn some of the key sciences utilized in the dental field. The time it takes to earn your high school diploma or GED equivalent can range from 3 months to 4 years.
Step 2: Complete Post Secondary Dental Assistant Training
(9 months to 2 years)
As noted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some states actually require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam prior to entering the career field. To fulfill the required training, students can attend a trade school or community college.
For example, the Dental Assisting Program at Midwest Technical Institute (MTI) trains students to become a dental assistant in just 9 months. In contrast, completing your dental assistant training at a community college can take 2 years and typically leads to an associate’s degree.
Step 3: Earn Your Dental Assistant Certification
(Time to complete varies)
Once you have completed dental assistant training, your next task is typically to earn your dental assistant certification. Certification requirements also vary by state, for example dental assistants who perform expanded duties such as coronal polishing, are required to be licensed, registered, or certified by DANB (Dental Assisting National Board).
MTI’s Dental Assisting Program in Illinois requires students to take two of the three DANB certification exams: RHS (Radiology Health & Safety) and ICE (Infection Control Exam). In Missouri, MTI dental assisting students can take the DANB certification exams or the Missouri Test of Basic Dental Assisting Skills (MBDA) Exam through DANB.
Midwest Technical Institute (MTI) offers 9-month Dental Assisting Program at all campus locations:
Step 4 (Optional): Dental Assistant Licensing and Registration
(Varies by state)
How Long Is Dental Assistant School?
Dental assistant training can take several months or years, depending on the dental assisting school you choose. Trade schools (also referred to as vocational schools) and community colleges are two common places to receive dental assisting training. So, how do you know which path is right for you?
Here’s some of the main differences between trade school and community college for dental assistant training.
- Community College: Program duration can vary; associate’s degree typically requires 2 years
- Trade School: Program duration spans from 9 to 12 months (MTI’s Dental Assisting Program is 9 months)
- Community College: Courses similar to vocational school plus general education classes
- The required general education classes is a key difference between community college and trade school—dental assistant programs at community colleges typically require more time to complete versus attending trade school for dental assistant education.
- Trade School: Hands-on training in oral anatomy, radiography, dental equipment & more
- Community College: Associate’s Degree
- Trade School: Certificate or diploma
Time to Complete
- Community College: 2 years
- You’ll spend more time in class due to GE course requirements, compared to attending a trade school program.
- Trade School: 9 months – 1 year
You’ll receive hands-on, career-focused training in both the classroom and the lab. Finishing your training faster allows you the opportunity to enter the workforce sooner, compared to attending a community college.
Dental Assisting Schooling in Illinois & Missouri
MTI offers a 9-month Dental Assisting Program at its campuses in both Illinois and Missouri:
The dental assisting instructors at MTI bring real-world experience to the classroom and lab. Through hands-on instruction, you will be trained in both clinical & administrative duties, including:
- Radiographs & Impressions
- Equipment Sterilization
- Lab Work
- X-Ray Procedures
- Patient Education
- Infection Control
- Restorative Dentistry & Dental Charting
- Prosthodontics & Dental Office Lab
- Dental Radiology & Office Administration
- Dental Specialties & Preventative Dentistry
- Employment Preparation & Review
- Externship for Real-World Experience in the Dental Field
Start Your Career as a Dental Assistant at MTI
Are you ready to change your life by starting a new career as a dental assistant? MTI is here to help!
Fill out the form below to connect with MTI’s friendly Admissions Team, or schedule a tour of your local campus.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Dental Assisting National Board (DANB)