How to Earn Your Dental Assistant License

dental assistant licensing

Are you interested in earning a dental assistant license, but want to learn about the details first? Here are some commonly asked licensing questions that should supply all the information you’ll need.

Is the License Offered at the National or State Level?

Dental assisting licenses are only offered at the state level, there is no national license available. That means that each state has its own standards and requirements for licensing.

Not all states require dental assistants to be licensed. A few, such as Pennsylvania or Wyoming, allow for supportive dental assistant work to be completed without a license. Although that may be exciting to those who don’t want to go through the licensing process, the flip-side is that dental assistants must work under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.  Also, the work will be entry-level assistant work.

If you wish to advance as a dental assistant, you will usually be expected to earn a license or complete extra training. The additional training or license will qualify you to perform more technical tasks.

Can I Transfer My License to Another State?

Transferring a dental assistant license can be tricky. Although it is possible, there are some states that won’t accept a license from another state if it does not meet their requirements.

Don’t let this discourage you. Depending on the state that you seek to practice in, it could be as simple as submitting a transfer request. Communication is key here. Get in touch with the state’s board of dentistry to see if your current license will still be valid. They can give you all the information you need to know about the transfer process.

How do I Earn a Dental Assistant License?

As we’ve discussed, the requirements for earning a dental assistant license will vary from state to state. Some states even refer to ‘licensed dental assistants’ as ‘registered dental assistants’ or ‘certified dental assistants’.

Your state will have their own board dedicated to dentistry – sometimes called a dental board or board of dentistry – that monitors licensing. They will have information that addresses the expectations and requirements of applying for licensure.  If you still have questions after reading through the licensing process, contact the board directly. That way you are ensuring you have clear and accurate information.

Although the specific requirements are different for every state, there is usually a common process for earning a dental assistant license:

Complete State Approved Dental Assisting Program

  • Most states require programs to provide clinical experience.
  • The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is often required for the program to be approved.

Take and Pass the Licensing Exam

  • The exam will vary, see the section below for more information.

Apply for State License

  • You will fill out and submit an application to your state’s board of dentistry.
  • An application fee is typically required.

What is the Exam Like?

Many states require the licensing exam to be given by the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB). Because this is a common exam option, we will use it as a sample for what to expect when taking a licensing exam.

While this exam can be taken to become a licensed dental assistant in some states, you should know that it is primarily offered by the DANB as a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification.

The test is broken up into three main topics:

General Chairside Assisting (GC)
Radiation Health and Safety (RHS)
Infection Control (ICE)

You can expect most state licensing exams to cover similar, if not the same, material.

Will I Need to Renew my License?

You will need to renew your dental assistant license in order to keep it active. Most states require licenses to be renewed every year or two.

As a practicing dental assistant, you will want to keep your license current. If your job or state requires you to be licensed and your license expires while you are working, then you could be suspended from your job until it is renewed, or even lose your job.

To renew your license you will need to submit an application or request, along with a fee. Not all states require continuing education units to renew a dental assistant license, but some do. Check with your state’s board of dentistry to find out what renewal requirements you will be expected to meet.


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