How to Become A Dental Assistant

Dental Assistants work under the supervision of dentists by assisting them in carrying out medical and dental procedures and various other tasks. They form an integral part of the dental care team and facilitate the operations of dental care service delivery.

Duties of a Dental Assistant

Dental assistants typically work in clinical settings and their duties may slightly vary, with regards to the types of dental services being offered, but they are largely the same and include:

  • Instructing patients with regards to oral hygiene
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Processing x-rays, performing lab tasks and assisting in diagnostic tests
  • Keeping records of dental treatments and patient histories
  • Assisting dentist in the use of suction hoses and other dental equipment
  • Sterilizing dental instruments
  • Preparing patients for treatments
  • Providing postoperative instructions
  • Preparing materials for making impressions and restorations
Types of Dental Assistants

There are three kinds of dental assistants with regards to the qualification:

  1. Qualified Dental Assistants- These professionals receive on the job training or training in a dental school.
  2. Registered Dental Assistants- These professionals are registered with the State Board of Examiners in a particular state.
  3. Certified Dental Assistants – This is the highest qualification with most education and experience. In order to be qualified, professionals must have taken and passed the Certified Dental Assistant Examination which also includes Infection Control, CPR certification, Radiation Health and Safety, and a General Chair-side component.  

How to Become a Dental Assistant? Steps You Need to Follow

The following are some general steps you need to follow in order to complete the process of becoming a dental assistant:

  • Graduate from high school with a diploma or a General Education Degree (GED). Take basic science subjects as electives during high school.
  • Decide on the type of dental assistant you aspire to become.
  • Take a Dental Assistant course which could be in the form of an accredited certificate program or associate’s degree.
  • Complete state-specific requirements for registration or licensure.
  • Pursue certification from the Dental Assisting National Board.

Educational Requirements and Training

Individuals interested in pursuing a career as a dental assistant can enroll in courses offered by community colleges and vocational schools that offer associate’s degree, certificate or diploma programs. Most certificate and diploma programs take one year to complete while the associate’s degree takes around two years and is less common than the one year programs. Individuals who have not acquired formal dental assistance education can learn through on-the-job practical training.  The educational programs offered for aspiring dental assistants largely focus around five broad categories which are as follows:

  1. Biomedical Sciences - Related to body structure and function, principals of microbiology with regards to infection control, and basic nutrition.
  2. Professional Dental Assistance - Related to dental materials and instruments, dental radiography, principals of basic dental and oral anatomy and basic knowledge on oral embryology, histology, pathology and therapeutics.
  3. Clinical Content Area - Related to chair-side dental assistance, laboratory procedures, patient education, infection control, dental radiographic procedures and preventive dentistry.
  4. Practical Experience- At least 200 hours of clinical experience.

Certification and Accreditation

Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association is responsible for authorizing accreditation of dental assisting programs.

Dental assistants can become certified by taking the Dental Assisting National Board’s (DANB) Certified Dental Assistant examination. The eligibility criteria for taking the CDA examination are as follows:

  • Completion of an accredited dental assisting program.
  • Two years of full-time practical experience for those who have trained on the job or have graduated from non-accredited programs.

Employment Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the employment of dental assistants is projected to increase by 25% from 2012 to 2022, which is greater than 11%, the average projected growth of all professions. As of 2012 the number of employed dental assistants was 303,200 and is projected to increase to 377,600 by 2022. With continuous research being carried out in the field of dental health, demand for preventive dental services is on the rise. And for this reason, so is the demand for dental assistants as dentists will need helping hands.

Skills Required

Dental assistant work closely with both patients and dentists and this involves the delivery of oral healthcare. In order to provide efficient care, there are certain personality traits and skills necessary for individuals to successfully carry out their duties as a professional dental assistant. These include being,  

  • Patient
  • Dependable
  • Communicative
  • Detail-oriented
  • Health-conscious
  • Adaptive

Apart from that, one must have the following skills to be a successful Dental Assistant:

  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • Strong organizational skills
  • Administrative skills

How to become a Dental Assistant in Texas?

To become a Dental Assistant in Texas, you need a high school diploma or an equivalent GED certificate. For an entry level Dental Assistant job, you don’t need any specialized education. The hiring dentist will provide on-the-job training. You can then become a Registered Dental Assistant by completing a Dental Assistant Course approved by the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners. You can then become a Certified Dental Assistant by passing the Dental Assisting National Board examination.

How to become a Dental Assistant in California?

To become a Dental Assistant in California, you need a high school diploma or an equivalent GED certificate. You can become an Unlicensed Dental Assistant and obtain on-the-job training. Your employer must ensure maintenance of a Basic Life Support certification. You can then become a Registered Dental Assistant by completing a Dental Board of California approved RDA program or by having 15 months of work experience. Higher level positions include Registered Dental Assistant in Extended Functions, Orthodontic Assistant and Dental Sedation Assistant.

States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 1660 0.11 1.26 18.13 37720
Florida 1130 0.14 1.68 17.97 37370
Illinois 960 0.16 1.92 17.9 37240
Texas 760 0.07 0.78 16.62 34570
New York 650 0.07 0.85 20.12 41840


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