How to Become a Dental Assistant

how to become a dental assistant
A career as a dental assistant is an appealing option—and for all the right reasons. Unlike some other careers in healthcare, the barrier to entry is rather low, and you can get started in your first job quickly.

This is also a job that allows you to make a meaningful impact in people’s lives and lets you work directly with patients in need. Finally, and perhaps most appealingly, the demand for dental assistants is always high. This guide will show you the steps to become a dental assistant.


Learn More about Dental Assistants

Explore what dental assistants do on a daily basis, both at the start of their careers and after years on the job. There are lots of resources available online, but talking to a practicing dental assistant is your best source for information. Find out what these professionals like and don’t like about their work, and explore what kind of advancement potential is available. Don’t make any formal plans or commitments until you are sure this a viable career path for you.


Identify Education Options

Dental assistant training is widely available from technical schools, community colleges and now many online education providers. Here are some considerations to keep in mind as you weigh your options:

Type of Training

A certificate or diploma in dental assisting can take less than a year to complete, but it is the lowest credential available. An associate’s degree takes around two years to complete but offers the strongest foundation for your career when it comes to advancement.

Online vs. In-Person

Online dental assistant programs are affordable and convenient, but they cannot offer the hands-on training that is particularly useful for future medical professionals. Consider a hybrid program that blends in-person and online components.


In order to be certified, you must complete training from a program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Any program that is not accredited is not worth your time or money.


The cost of dental assisting programs varies, but some are outrageously overpriced. Be sure to do cost comparisons and investigate financial aid or scholarship options.


Complete Your Education

The specifics of your dental assistant program will depend on the level of training you choose to pursue and the way your program is organized:


You will take classes like Oral Anatomy, Dental Materials and Equipment, Dental Office Administration, CPR and First Aid, and Dental Pharmacology.


These supplemental programs allow students to work in a functioning dental office alongside practicing professionals. They are not required in all dental assistant programs, but they are an invaluable learning tool.

Choose a Specialty

You may have the option to specialize in a field like endodontics, periodontics or pediatric dentistry. These specialized programs may take longer to complete but can be a major career asset over the long term.


Gain Certification

Every state sets different requirements for working as a dental assistant. It helps to investigate these requirements before enrolling in a training program so that you can get into the workforce as quickly and easily as possible. Here is what you will need to do in most states:

Pass the Exam

The Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination is administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). It lasts four hours and consists of 320 questions. Most dental assistant programs are designed to help you pass this test.

Have the Experience

Formal dental assistant training is highly recommended but not strictly required. Some states allow dental assistants with enough on-the-job experience to take the CDA exam and advance in their career.

Meet the Requirements

It may also be a requirement to pass CPR training, submit to a health screening, comply with a background check, or meet other administrative hurdles. Check with your state’s Dental Board for specific details.


Find Your First Job

Here are some tips to help you find a better first job in less time:

Leverage Your Resources

The training program you completed may offer job placement assistant. Dental offices where you have volunteered or completed externships are also great resources.

Market Your Skills

Dental assistants take on many diverse roles. Make sure your resume and professional presentation represent your complete skill set.

Contact Your Network

You have many contacts from your time in dental assistant school. Plus, almost everyone you know has a relationship with a dentist. Reach out to friends, family, and colleagues for potential leads.


Tell us a little about yourself and we’ll connect you with schools that offer dental assistant degree programs.

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