What Education Do You Need to Be a Dental Assistant?

Considering a career in dental assisting? Find out what education and training you’ll need to get started in this rewarding field.

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Dental Assisting Education

Dental assistants play a vital role in the dental office, providing support to both the dentist and the patients. Dental assistants must have completed a dental assisting program and be registered with the state in which they practice. Some states require dental assistants to be licensed. Although most dental assistants have completed a dental assisting program, many have also completed college coursework.

On-the-job training

Dental assistants usually receive on-the-job training. Some states require certification or licensure.

Dental assistants with formal education from an accredited dental assisting program generally have more job opportunities and may earn higher wages than those who do not have formal education.

Most States regulate dental assistants’ duties, and some States require certification or licensure. Employers prefer to hire dental assistants who have completed a dental assisting program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, which is the dental profession’s accrediting body.

Most accredited dental assisting programs lead to an Associate degree, although there are a few 3-year bachelor’s degree programs. Many community colleges offer accredited programs that typically last about 2 years and lead to an Associate degree, although some are only 1 year long and result in a certificate or diploma.

Certificate

Dental assisting programs generally lead to either a certificate or an associate’s degree in dental science. Some programs may offer both options. The majority of dental assistants have completed at least a 2-year program, although a growing number have earned 4-year degrees.

Most community colleges, technical institutes, and vocational schools offer courses leading to a certificate or degree in dental assisting. These programs usually last 1 year or 2 years and typically include both classroom and laboratory work, as well as clinical experience in a dental office. Some states require certification or licensure for dental assistants, although requirements vary.

Diploma

A dental assistant career typically starts with a high school diploma or equivalent, although some positions may require postsecondary education, and all states require licensure or certification.

High school students interested in becoming a dental assistant should take courses in biology, health, chemistry, and computer applications. Many community colleges, technical colleges, and private trade schools offer programs in dental assisting. These programs typically last 1 year and lead to a certificate or diploma. Some programs may offer an associate degree in dental assisting, which can take 2 years to complete.

Associate degree

An associate degree in dental assisting takes about two years to complete, although some programs may be completed in as little as 18 months. These programs are typically offered at community colleges and technical schools. During your training, you’ll take courses in oral anatomy, dental materials, radiology, and other topics related to dentistry. You’ll also get plenty of hands-on experience working with dental equipment and procedures.

Dental Assisting Certification

Education requirements for dental assistants vary by state. In some states, dental assistants may perform certain expanded functions after completing a formal education program and passing a written and skills examination. Many dental assisting programs lead to certification.

DANB Certification

Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) certification is voluntary, but most employers prefer or require it. To be eligible for DANB certification, you must have a high school diploma or equivalent, complete an accredited dental assisting program and pass an examination. If you are already working as a dental assistant, you may be eligible to take the examination without completing a formal education program. You must also meet state requirements for dental assistants, which may include passing a state-specific examination.

State Certification

While certification is not required in all states, it may be necessary to become a certified dental assistant (CDA) in order to perform certain duties or to advance in your career. Certification demonstrates your professional competence and commitment to the field of dental assisting, and it can give you an edge when seeking employment or applying for promotions.

There are several certifying organizations for dental assistants, but the most widely recognized is the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To become a CDA, you must complete DANB’s written examination and clinical examination. The examinations test your knowledge of general dentistry, infection control, radiography, anatomy and physiology, chairside assisting, office procedures, denture procedures and more.

In order to be eligible to take the examinations, you must have completed a dental assisting program that has been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) or another organization recognized by DANB. Alternatively, you may be eligible if you have two years of full-time work experience as a dental assistant. Once you have passed the examinations and been awarded your CDA designation, you must renew your certification every three years by completing continuing education requirements and paying a fee.

Dental Assisting Salary

Many people who are interested in working in the dental field want to know what dental assisting salary they can expect to earn. Although there are many variables that can affect how much money a dental assistant makes, it is possible to give a general overview of dental assistant salaries.

National

Dental assistants in the United States report a median annual salary of $37,920, which is lower than many other medical professions. However, their salary can vary greatly depending on their employer, geographic location, and level of experience.

entry-level dental assistants in the United States report a median annual salary of $31,710, while those with more experience can earn $44,180 or more per year. The top 10% of dental assistants earn an annual salary of $51,470 or more.

Dental assistants in the United States with 1 to 4 years of experience report a median annual salary of $33,840, while those with 5 to 9 years of experience earn a median annual salary of $40,520. Experienced dental assistants with 10 to 19 years of experience report a median annual salary of $45,610. Those with 20 or more years of experience earn a median annual salary of $49,380 per year.

By State

The average dental assistant salary in the United States is $38,000 per year, which is slightly higher than the average salary for all occupations. However, dental assistant salaries can vary significantly by state. For example, dental assistants in Alaska earn an average salary of $44,000 per year, while those in Nevada earn an average of just $31,000 per year. The following table shows the average dental assistant salary in all 50 states.

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