What is a Registered Dental Assistant?

registered dental assistant

What’s the difference between a registered and certified dental assistant?

Earning the title of Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) means you have passed the required classes as well as the national dental assistant exam that is administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

DANB certification is recognized as the standard in certification nationwide by prestigious dental associations, including these:

  • American Association of Dental Boards
  • Academy of General Dentistry
  • American Dental Association
  • American Dental Assistants Association
  • American Dental Education Association

While being certified is not necessarily a requirement to work as a dental assistant, it is the standard for measuring both knowledge and skills and is often a requirement of employment by dentists seeking to hire new assistants.

In contrast, earning the title of Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) means you have met all of the requirements on a state level and can perform dental assistant duties as outlined by the state in which you live.

What does it mean to be “registered?”

Being registered means you have passed all the qualifications your state requires of a dental assistant and that you are allowed to perform all the duties as outlined by your state.

For example, your state may have a separate exam to become registered; it is also typical for states to require separate X-ray certification before being eligible for the “registered” title. In many states you must first be certified to be eligible to take the state registered exam; often there is a clause where several years experience may be substituted for certification.

Note that while being a CDA is recognized nationwide if you move to another state you will have to meet that state’s requirements to become registered and/or licensed.

Take a look at the differences:

  Certified Dental Assistant Registered Dental Assistant
Education Level Diploma or certificate from accredited school Diploma or certificate from accredited school; possibly continued education in specific areas such as X-ray
Requirements for Designation Pass three-part DANB CDA exam Meet state standards such as state exam; possibly required to pass national exam for certification in areas such as X-ray or restorative procedures
Exam Cost $425.00 Varies by state
Issued by DANB State in which you will practice

Because the requirements to become a registered dental assistant vary widely from state-to-state, it is vital that you check with your state’s dental regulatory board before you enroll in a dental assistant program. Make sure the school meets the accreditation standards for both DANB and the state in which you plan to work and offers all class requirements as outlined by your state regulatory board. Note that both traditional and online schools are accepted by both DANB and state boards, as long as they meet accreditation requirements.

Here are some examples of state requirements to become a registered dental assistant:


Cost Requirements
  • Earn a degree or certificate from a CODA-accredited dental assisting program
  • Pass the Michigan board comprehensive and clinical exam or pass an equivalent exam in another state (proof of out-of-state licensure required)
  • Complete the fingerprinting/criminal background check process
  • Apply for a license to the Michigan Board of Dentistry


Cost Requirements
  • Complete a current course in basic life support
  • Earn the national DANB CDA certification and complete the Texas Jurisprudence Assessment
  • Apply to the TSBDE for registration


Cost Requirements
  • Completion of seven clock hours of AIDS education and training
  • Hold a current and valid health care provider basic life support (BLS) certification
  • Graduation from a CODA-accredited dental assisting, dental hygiene, or dental educational program or individual training provided by a Washington-licensed dentist

New Jersey

Cost Requirements
$35.00 application fee plus $90.00 registration fee
  • Graduate from a New Jersey Board-approved CODA-accredited dental assisting program
  • Pass DANB’s national Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) or Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) exam or obtain at least two years’ work experience as a dental assistant


Cost Requirements
  • Successfully complete BLS for Healthcare Providers
  • Have a high school diploma or GED certificate
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Apply for registration to the Tennessee Board of Dentistry

Additional certifications you may apply for:

  • Dental Radiology Certification
  • Coronal Polishing Certification
  • Monitoring Nitrous Oxide Certification
  • Sealant Application Certification
  • Prosthetic Function Certification
  • Restorative Function Certification


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