How to Become a Dental Assistant

dental student training with teeth

Dental Assistant Definition

Dental assistants primarily work in dentists’ offices. They play a supportive role to the dentist, assisting him or her with dental procedures. In some practices, dental assistants may also help with the administration of the business in the front office. Performing a combination of dental assisting duties and clerical front office tasks is also not uncommon for these allied health professionals. Learn more about what a dental assistant is and what a dental assistant does.

Dental Assistant Education Requirements

The route to a career in dental assisting depends on where an individual lives, works, and the duties he or she performs. Below is a closer look at the steps one might take to earn the credentials to work as a dental assistant.

Educational Steps to Becoming a Dental Assistant

StepsType of Career PreparationWhat to ExpectRequirement Status
Step 1High School Diploma or GEDStudy of Anatomy, Biology, and Chemistry Can Be HelpfulRequired
Step 2Formal Dental Assistant Training
Examples: Certificate (63 Percent of Dental Assistants)
Associate Degree (12 Percent of Dental Assistants)
Theoretical Instruction and Hands-On Training in Clinical and Administrative TasksDepends on State and Employer
OROn-the-Job TrainingTraining in Patient Care Practices, Dental and Dental Equipment TerminologyTypical When Formal Dental Assistant Training Isn’t Required
Step 3CertificationMeeting Eligibility Requirements and Passing a Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) ExamDepending on the State, May Be Required to Perform Expanded Duties
Can Improve Employment Opportunities
AND/OR…LicensingMeeting the Requirements of the Specific State’s Board of Dental ExaminersDepending on the State, May Be Necessary to Work in Infection Control, with X-RAY Technologies, or for other Specialties
AND/OR…RegistrationMeeting State Licensing Board Eligibility Requirements and Passing an ExamDepends on the Requirements of the State.

Dental Assistant Credentials

Certification, licensing, and/or registration are credentials individuals may obtain to meet state or employer requirements or to advance in the field. Typically, one or more of these credentials are necessary to perform expanded duties, X-Rays, or other specialized jobs. Additional training may be necessary to perform these types of jobs.

Dental Assistant Expanded Duties

Fluoride ApplicationPlacing Fluoride on the Teeth to Prevent Cavities
Coronal PolishingCleaning Teeth by Removing Plaque and other Soft Deposits
Topical Anesthetic ApplicationPreparing Patients for Procedures by Numbing Specific Areas of the Mouth with Topical Anesthetic
Sealant ApplicationA Cavity Prevention Technique that Entails Painting a Thin, Plastic Substance on the Teeth to Protect Them from Acid-Producing Bacteria and Food Particles

How to Become a Certified Dental Assistant

In the U.S., the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) oversees the certification of dental assistants. The agency offers four national certifications that would be relevant to the field of dental assisting: National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA); Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA); Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA); and Certified Dental Assistant (CDA). Individuals must complete a 3-step process for each certification.

3-Step DANB Certification Process

  • Step 1: Check Your Eligibility
  • Step 2: Complete the Application and Submit the Fee
  • Step 3: Schedule and Take the Exam

DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) Certification

CDA certification is DANB’s most widely recognized and popular certification. Below are more details about the steps necessary to become a Certified Dental Assistant.

Step 1: Meet Eligibility Requirements of 1 of 3 Pathways

Pathway 1: Graduate from a Dental Assistant Program Accredited by the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) and Hold a Current CPR Certification from a DANB-Accepted ProviderPathway 2: High School Diploma or GED, at Least 3,500 Approved Work Experience Hours, and Have Up-to-Date CPR Certification from a DANB-Accepted ProviderPathway 3: Previously Held CDA Certification, or Graduated from a DMD or DDS Program, and Hold Up-to-Date CPR Certification from a DANB-Accepted Provider

Step 2: Submit Application

Download and Fill Out the DANB CDA Exam Application Packet, Which Includes Applications for Four Exams:

  • Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)
  • General Chairside Assisting (GC)
  • Radiation Health and Safety (RHS)
  • Infection Control (ICE)

Submit Application with Fees for Exams (Fees Vary with Each Exam, Location, and Active Military Personnel Status)Within the Four Weeks After the Application Is Received and Processed the Applicant Will Receive Instructions for Scheduling the CDA Exam

Step 3: Take and Pass Exam

  1. Review Exam Outline DANB Provides
  2. Choose Study Materials
  3. Make a Study Plan

Midwest Technical Institute, which offers dental assisting programs at its campuses in East Peoria, Moline, and Springfield, Illinois, schedules its students to take two of the three exams necessary to obtain DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant certification. MTI students take the Radiology Health & Safety (RHS) and the Infection Control (ICE) exams. They must meet work experience requirements and take the General Chairside Assisting (GC) exam to finish the certification process. Training is also provided at the school’s campus in Springfield, Missouri.

How to Become a Registered Dental Assistant

Entering the Dental Care Industry as a Dental Assistant

With much faster than average job growth (14 percent) predicted through 2029, dental assisting can be a promising career for those with the right credentials. It’s also one that can offer the satisfaction of helping people. A 9-month dental assistant training program can be a starting point for entry into the dental care industry.  The admissions staff at MTI can help answer questions about how to become a dental assistant.