Requirements for a Dental Assistant

Dental assistants work closely with licensed dentists before, during and after dental work. They prepare patients for procedures, record medical histories, take x-rays and prepare dental equipment. Becoming a dental assistant entails some form of training and, in many states, licensure and national certification.

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Dental Assistant Requirements

Education Requirements

There are no formal education requirements for entering a career in dental assisting. Some assistants have a high school diploma and only receive on-the-job training; however, postsecondary dental assisting programs offer more comprehensive career training. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were more than 285 dental assisting education programs approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in 2010 (www.bls.gov).

Dental assisting programs are typically 1-year diploma or certificate programs. These programs tend to focus solely on technical training through classroom, laboratory and clinical instruction. Courses may include dental materials, radiology, chairside assisting, dental office administration and biodental science. Some community colleges and vocational schools also offer 2-year associate's degree programs, which combine general education, technical training and more extensive clinical practicums.

Licensure

Some states allow dental assistants to perform all duties assigned by a dentist, while in other states, they must obtain licensure or registration to perform certain duties. Licensure requirements vary by state, but may include completing an accredited postsecondary program. Licensure candidates may also be required to pass a written or practical exam. Dental assistants often maintain licensure by earning continuing education at state-specified intervals.

Certification

The Dental Assisting National Board offers the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA®) designation, which was recognized or required by 38 states and the District of Columbia as of 2014 (www.danb.org). To be eligible to take the CDA® exam, applicants must hold a current CPR certification and meet one of the following qualifications:

  • have graduated from an accredited dental assisting/dental hygiene program,
  • have a high school diploma, or equivalent, and a minimum of 3,500 hours of approved work experience, OR
  • have previously held DANB CDA® status, or have graduated from an accredited DDS or DMD program, or graduated from a dental degree program abroad.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 25% employment increase for dental assistants through 2022. The BLS also reported an annual median salary of $34,900 for this occupation in 2013.

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