How to Become a Dental Assistant – In 3 Steps

Dental assistants have a vital role in providing patient care, assisting dentists, and performing administrative duties.

Many dental assistants perform lab tasks.

Dental assistants also help dentists by handing them surgical instruments during surgical procedures.

They work under the direct supervision of dentists.

The U.S. is expected to have thousands of openings for new dental assistants through 2032.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that the job outlook for dental assistants is “much faster than average.”

Dental assistant programs vary by state, as do the requirements to become a dental assistant.

Students who complete an online dental assistant program have the same skills as someone who completes the program in an on-campus format.

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Steps to Becoming a Dental Assistant

1. Learning the State Requirements

The first thing that future dental assistants need to do is to learn the requirements to become a dental assistant in the state where they plan to practice.

Some states do not have education requirements beyond a high school diploma for dental assistants.

One example is that the state of California lists the requirements for both unlicensed dental assistants and registered dental assistants.

An unlicensed dental assistant performs basic supportive procedures while working under the direction of a dentist.

Employers often have their requirements.

The state may not have a requirement that dental assistants need to complete a dental assistant program, but employers may require that dental assistants meet their eligibility requirements, which include the completion of a dental assistant program.

2. Enrolling in a Dental Assistant Program

Many students do not have the time or the ability to attend classes in a daily face-to-face format.

Enrolling in an online program prepares students for a career as a dental assistant.

It also prepares them to sit for exams.

The length of a dental assistant program depends on whether the student enrolls in a dental assistant certificate program or an associate degree program.

It also depends on the program structure at individual schools.

It is the student’s responsibility to know whether the online dental assistant program that they enroll in meets the requirements of the state where they want to practice.

High school students who want to become dental assistants need to take courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy, and other courses that are recommended by their adviser or counselor.

3. Knowing the Exam Requirements

States may differ in their exam requirements for students who complete a dental assistant program.

Students should check the exam requirements for the state where they want to work.

Dental assistant programs and schools often provide students with information regarding dental assistant exams.

Many online dental assistant programs prepare students to sit for exams.

Try our dental assisting practice test to make sure you’re ready for the big test.

Licensing Requirements for Working as a Dental Assistant

Licensing requirements for dental assistants vary among the states.

Individuals who want to pursue a career as a dental assistant need to know the licensing requirements for the state where they plan to practice as a dental assistant.

Most states do not have licensing requirements for entry-level dental assistants.

Other states require dental assistants to be licensed or certified as entry-level dental assistants.

Some states require dental assistants to have a license or that they are certified if they want consideration for advancement.

Registered dental assistants in California must graduate from a state board-approved registered dental assistant program, or work as a registered dental assistant for 15 months.

The state has several other requirements, including that dental assistants must complete a state-approved course in the California Dental Practice Act and an eight-hour approved course in infection control within five years of applying for licensure.

They must also pass exams.

The state of Illinois only requires that dental assistants pass the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam. Pennsylvania only requires that dental assistants pass the Dental Assisting National Board Radiation Health and Safety exam.

People should check the Dental Assisting National Board site to find the requirements for working as a dental assistant in their state.

Online Training Programs

It is important for people who want to become a dental assistant to know that online programs carry the same weight as completing an on-campus program.

Students need to be careful in making sure that the online program complies with the requirements of their state.

Some states may not require that dental assistants complete an education program, but most employers are likely to want proof that job applicants completed an accredited dental assistant training program.

Franklin University

Franklin University offers the Dental Assistant Certificate Online program.

The 100 percent online program is geared towards beginner students.

The 14-week program includes instruction in dental anatomy and morphology, chair-side functions, infection control, and patient education.

It also includes training in radiographic skills and radiation safety.

Students who complete the program are eligible to sit for the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) certification through the American Medical Technologists (AMT) Association.

The tuition is $4,000.

Payment options are available through MedCerts.

North Carolina Central University

North Carolina Central University offers an online Clinical Dental Assistant training program.

The program features training in preventive dentistry, patient care, anesthesia, and radiology.

Students also learn about dental instruments, pathology, and assisting in specialty practices.

The program provides students with vouchers to sit for the Anatomy, Morphology, Physiology, Infection Control, and Radiation Health and Safety portions of the Dental Assisting National Board exam.

The 300-hour program has open enrollment.

The tuition is $2,995.

Health Tech Academy

The online Dental Assistant Bootcamp program at Health Tech Academy prepares students to start working as dental assistants in as little as 16 weeks.

Students learn to maintain and update patient records.

They learn about patient education, scheduling, and administrative tasks.

The program consists of 11 courses. Some courses include The Dental Assisting Profession, Radiographic Imaging, Foundation of Clinical Dentistry, and Assisting in Comprehensive Dental Care.

The Health Tech Academy program prepares students to sit for the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) certification.

Tuition is $3,450.

University of Houston

The online Clinical Dental Assisting program at the University of Houston is a 100 percent online program.

There are no prerequisites to enroll in the 12-month program.

Students learn anatomy and physiology, preventive dentistry, oral pathology, pharmacology, and anesthesia.

They also explore maintaining computerized clinical dental records.

Students have an opportunity to complete an externship to get real-life dental assistant experience.

Graduates of the program receive vouchers to sit for three portions of the Dental Assisting National Board exams.

The cost of the program is $3,095.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the median salary for dental assistants in the U.S. in 2022 was $44,820.

The salary that a dental assistant earns often depends upon their work setting.

One example is that a dental assistant who works for a government agency often earns more than a dental assistant who works in a private dental practice.

Some other things that may affect the salary that a dental assistant earns are their experience and the state where they work as a dental assistant.

The site indicates that the median salary for a dental assistant who works in Florida is $44,292, as of January 2024.

The median salary for a dental assistant in California is $51,425.

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