Dental Assisting Degree

Did you know that in the 18th century, dental assistants were known as “ladies in attendance”? In the early 1900s, Juliette Southard was hired by Dr Henry Fowler to work as a dental assistant. Later, she formed the dental assistants’ society in New York. Through her hard work and determination, she formed the American Dental Assistants Association in 1924. Today, ADAA remains the oldest and largest professional association set up to promote dental assisting professionals in the US.

Dental Assisting Practice


Why become a dental assistant?

As more dentists began to hire dental assistants in their offices, the field of dentistry began to flourish in the 1900s. Today, dental assistants are recognized as an indispensable and integral part of the healthcare sector. Here are some reasons why you should become a dental assistant:

  • Employment growth – according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for dental assistants is expected to grow by 25% from 2012-2022, which is faster than average.
  • Helping others – working as a dental assistant means you can help individuals on a daily basis.
  • Working environment – you can work in dentist offices or clinics.
  • Opportunities for advancement – dental assisting offers opportunities to excel professionally. You can further specialize in relevant fields and improve your career prospects.

What do you need to become a dental assistant?

There are many academic routes you can take to prepare for a dental assistant career. Some states ask specific educational requirements of all dental assistant candidates.  

It is recommended that you complete high school and enroll in an accredited dental assisting degree. Depending on the institute you choose, this program can take a year or more. You can choose from many colleges accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

Dental Assistant at Clinic

Dental assistant program


Dental assistant training programs are designed to prepare students for entry-level careers in the field. Students enrolled in this program will receive instruction based hands-on training and will develop laboratory skills necessary for practice. The program will also emphasize classroom learning that will introduce students to dental terminology and related concepts.

The coursework and curriculum structure may vary from college to college. Generally, students are required to cover fundamental concepts and build a strong foundation of knowledge during the first few semesters. Further in the program, the curriculum will focus on theoretical concepts and laboratory training.

Here are a few courses covered in a dental assisting program:

  • Introduction to dentistry and dental assistant

In this course, students will learn about the history of the field and major contributions to dentistry. Students will cover important topics such as the following: role of dental assistant, history of dental assistants, and dental health teams.

  • Dental terminology and anatomy

In this course, students will gain an in-depth understanding of the anatomy of the mouth, neck, throat, and tooth structure. The course will highlight important topics such as: oral cavity, types of teeth, and dental terminology.

  • Cavity classification and charting

This course is designed to cover dental assistant basics. Students will learn about the importance of dental treatment, use of charting symbols, identify teeth using different systems, and medical conditions associated with dentistry.

  • Preventive dentistry and nutrition

In this course, students will learn about the role of nutrition in dentistry. The course may cover the following topics: fluorides, home-care techniques, nutrition in preventive dentistry, dental plaque and calculus, and more.

  • Dental law and ethics

This course will provide students with an overview of rules and regulations that govern the field of dentistry. Students will learn about dental jurisprudence, ethical behavior, and ethical issues in dentistry.

Students are required to complete different practical exercises in laboratory classrooms and practically apply dental techniques. Hands-on learning is an essential part of becoming a dental assistant.

Program objectives

Students will learn how to:

  • Identify materials and different types of dental treatments
  • Identify and classify dental instruments
  • Describe techniques used in dental treatments
  • Understand the importance of hygiene and nutrition
  • Assist dentists by performing tasks such as handling equipment, processing x-rays, checking dental charts, and preparing patients for treatments
  • Understand the responsibilities and ethical boundaries of this occupation

Dental assistant certificate program

You can also opt for a certificate program in dental assistant. This is a short course that will equip you with skills and knowledge necessary for the career. The duration of the program depends on the institute you enroll in. Some certificate programs can be completed in less than six months.

The coursework of a certificate in dental assistant will include theory-based subjects and practical training sessions. Here are some topics you may study in the program:

  • Dental assisting science
  • Dental assisting theory
  • Clinical experience
  • Office procedures and management
  • Dental radiology
  • Oral hygiene and nutrition

What skills will you develop?

In a dental assistant program, you will develop technical skills relevant to the field. Other skills you may acquire are:

  • Listening and Communication skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Attention to Detail

How to enroll in a dental assistant program?

The admission requirements may vary from college to college. Generally, applicants are required to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Other requirements may include the following:

  • Minimum C grade in high school science courses
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal essay

Licensing and certification

In some states, dental assistants are required to have a license or a certification. You can check with your state board to find out what the minimum requirements are. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) is a leading organization that certifies dental assistants. If you want to obtain a professional dental assistant certification, you must pass the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam conducted by the DANB.


Dental X-Ray


Career Prospects                                                                                         

After completing a dental assistant program, you can apply for a job at a dental clinic or a hospital. You may be asked to go through on-the-job training. The income potential will depend upon various factors such as employer, organization, skills, qualification, and the state you reside in. According to BLS, dental assistants made a median annual income of $34,500 in 2012.


Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What are some of the courses I will cover in an associate dental assisting degree?

A:In an associate degree in dental assisting, you may come across important courses such as the following: clinical science, introduction to dental assisting, dental anatomy, community health, dental radiology, dental materials, dental procedures, medical terminology, clinical rotation, and more. Please remember that the curriculum may vary slightly from college to college.

Q:Do you need a degree to be a dental assistant?

A:There is no such official degree requirement to become a dental assistant. Although it can be helpful to pursue an associate or bachelor degree to prepare for this career, you may still qualify for the role with a diploma. You will however need to enroll in a training program to learn about basic skills and knowledge for dental assisting careers.

Q:How is the coursework of a dental assistant online degree program covered?

A:The coursework of an online dental assistant degree can be covered with the help of tutorials, videos, classroom conferencing, and online lectures. Some colleges have their own online educational programs that have to be downloaded by students. For the practical component of the degree, students may be required to take classes on-campus.

Q:Why should I enroll in a dental assistant online degree?

A:An online degree may be a suitable study mode for working individuals or students who cannot afford full-time college. Online learning has proved to be flexible, cost-friendly and convenient. You can study from the comfort of your home without any time restriction. You can study in your free time and according to your own pace.

Q:What are the basic dental assistant degree requirements?

A:The degree requirements will basically depend on which degree-level you are pursuing. Generally, to complete a degree successfully, students must cover all the components of the curriculum, earn a minimum number of credit hours, pass all examinations, and complete assignments. You can check with prospective schools to find out more about the degree requirements.

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