How to Become a Certified Dental Assistant

By | August 30, 2023
how to become a dental assistant
Becoming a certified dental assistant will lead to increased pay
and provide a sense of career fulfilment. Image source:

To become a certified dental assistant is not as easy as some people may think, it requires you working hard to achieve it.

You have to get the prerequisites ready; get trained and sit for course exams; pass the exams and get certified; get licensed and further your education.

You can see that it is a long way pursuing dental assistant career, however, you will be proud of yourself when you have finally attained certification and reaching the peak of your career.

This post will guide you all through the steps you need to take to become certified, but first …

Who is a Dental Assistant?

A dental assistant works closely with the dentist, providing him with tools and equipment needed for dental procedures, and supporting him in performing administrative and laboratory tasks, taking care of patients and preparing them for treatment.

A dental assistant is not the real dental operator that performs on patients but only an assistant to the licensed dentist. See detailed duties and responsibilities of dental assistants here.

Dental Assistant Educational Requirements and Career Pathway

The educational requirements you need to meet to become a certified dental assistant (CDA) can vary, depending on the qualification you already have and the kind of training you have chosen.

Any of high school diploma, school certificate, or associate degree is required for enrolling in the different training programs.

Dental Assistant Training Programs: There are several schools and training programs that offer dental assisting courses you can actually attend. You can find them online.

Most of the schools help dental assistants who want to learn new dental skills or develop old skills and improve on them.

There is a tuition fee to be paid alongside enrollment which can be done by mail, phone, or through online.

It takes about 30 days for most of the institutions to process and ship the course materials to you so you can begin the training. But note that they may not ship to a P.O. Box.

How long does it take to complete the training program? It will take you two years to complete associate degree program with grades between 70 and 100, except you can finish before two years.

When you apply, you will know the tuition rate for each course. You can pay by any of the following ways: credit cards (American Express, Discovery, Visa Card and MasterCard), check (by phone), personal check (U.S. checking accounts only), and money order.

After successfully passing all the exams in the program, you will receive an associate degree if it’s a two year program, and a diploma or certificate if the program ran for a year or less.

Students outside U.S. and Canada may be required to pay their full tuition rate as the course materials will be shipped to them once.

Your tuition fee consists of textbooks, learning aids, study guides, exams, online tools, instructional services, free shipping, toll-free phone to contact instructors and personalized career diploma.

You will be able to contact qualified instructors by phone or e-mail whenever you have problems with your studies.

When you enroll for an online dental assistant program, you will receive your unique student number together with your first set of course materials, and then use this number to register for the school’s eService platform where you can log-in to review grades, contact instructors, submit exams, and make tuition payments.

To be accepted into the program, you must be at least 17 or 18 years of age.

Most of the institute offering dental assistant training boost of their programs helping students to upgrade or learn new skills; get a more lucrative job, and build self-confidence and esteem.

Dental Assistant Qualification Online Courses

Here are some of the courses you should expect to study when you enroll into a dental assisting training program.

  • Chair-side Operation course: In this course you will be taught how to get the rooms and the patient ready. You will learn to be a Chair-side assistant. You will learn to take note of medical emergencies operative routine. You will also learn to handle dental equipment with care.
  • Dental terminology course: To become a certified dental assistant (CDA), you must learn how to use dental terminology while under training. You will also learn how to read charts; how the teeth are structured, and how they function.
  • Diagnosis course: Here, you handle charts and anesthesia, and learn certain computer programs. You will learn how to assist the dentist during diagnosis, and maintain the instruments by carefully keeping them in their right positions.
  • Dental radiology course: In radiology course, you will learn how to take x-rays of patients’ teeth and how to read radiography and radiation production. The radiology process checks and identifies dental related problems.
  • Dental tools course: The dental tools course is where you will learn about tools and materials used in dentistry, how to keep them safe in the laboratory after operation.
  • CPR course: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is one of the courses to be taken by students on how they can identify emergencies and use resuscitation instrument to restore patients’ blocked airways.
  • Infection Control Course: This course helps students learn how to prevent disease transmission and teaches them how to protect patients and coworkers from being infected with communicable diseases.
  • Dental Office Routine and Management: This course teaches the transaction aspect of dental office management. In this course you will learn how to perform office duties, use computer to facilitate activities, and handle insurance issues.

How to Obtain Dental Assistant Certification

Your performance during exams will determine whether you will be certified or not. To obtain certification, you have to really equip yourself for the exam.

DANB Certification: Passing the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) certification exam is required by most States in the United States.

With a high school diploma, you can enroll in their program. It will take you 2 years to get certified by DANB, and you must complete their practical courses before graduating.

Dental assistants can get certified by taking the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) certification exam, which consists of General Chair-side Assisting (GC) exam, Infection Control Exam (ICE), and Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam . The three exams will cost $425.

Before taking a dental assisting certification examination, participants are obligated to take any of the dental assisting programs accredited by CODA.

Commission On Dental Accreditation (CODA): CODA is a recognized body for accreditation of dental educational programs. Dental schools and programs in the US all pass through CODA’s accreditation.

Step-by-step Process of Obtaining DANB Certification: DANB certification is the tap-root of your dental assistant career. Follow the step-by-step method to achieving it below:

  • Check Your Eligibility: There are requirements you must meet to be eligible to take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination, as well as the General Chair-side Assisting (GC) examination, but there are no eligibility requirements for taking Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) and Infection Control Exam (ICE).
  • Complete and Submit Application: You will have to download the CDA application packet with inclusion of Individual Component Exam (ICE) for completion of your application.
  • Take the Exam: DANB will notify you within a month of receiving and processing your application, providing you with test-schedule instructions. When you have successfully completed the CDA exam you will finally receive the DANB national certification that is highly recognized by employers and patients.

Eligibility requirements for CDA and GC are:

1. You must be a graduate of a dental assisting, or a dental hygiene program accredited by CODA, and must have an updated CPR from a genuine DANB provider.
2. You must be a High School graduate or have the equivalent qualification, minimum of 3500 hours of work experience and updated CPR from any genuine DANB provider.

Benefits of DANB Certification: There are lots of benefits to your career for possessing DANB certification, and they include: free dental treatment, paid vacation and holiday, pension arrangements, sickness leave, self confidence, increased knowledge, added skills, and better job opportunities.

Recertification requirements: The yearly recertification of DANB keeps you up-to-date and distinguishes you from other certified dental assistants.

The three important requirements for recertification are:

1. Annual earning of CDE credits: The requirement for DANB recertification is annual earning of Continuing Dental Education (CDE) credits. You can go for person-to-person or online recertification.
2. Updated and genuine DANB CPR certification: For this requirement, you must possess CPR, ACLS or BLS certification from any authentic DANB provider.
3. Recertification fee settlement: The amount for this process is variable according to the number of credentials to be recertified.

Becoming a Licensed Dental Assistant

To be licensed to practice as dental assistant, each State has its requirements that applicants must meet. You should visit the relevant depart of your State administrative office to get clarification.

However, the central part of the requirement for all States is that you must meet have completed a course of study in dental assisting that is approved by the State, and also achieve passing scores in the DANB examinations you took, which means, you must be certified.

As a certified dental assistant, you can go ahead to apply for licensure to the State you wish to practice in and fill necessary forms, as well as pay the stipulated fee.

Certified Dental Assistant Duties and Responsibilities

The role and responsibilities of a certified dental assistant (CDA) are different from that of a dentist. The CDA is only assisting the dentist in carrying out dental procedures on patients.

The dental assistant’s role is minor to that of the dentist, and below are some of his/her duties:

  • Making available all the tools needed to be used by the dentist
  • Keeping records of daily activities
  • Taking X-ray
  • Guiding and preparing the patient for treatment
  • Sterilizing operating instruments and providing them for the process
  • Handling billing and payment
  • Offering necessary assistance.

See detail certified dental assistant job description here.

Certified Dental Assistant Job Opportunities

Certified dental assistants can find dental assisting jobs as instructors in vocational colleges, private and public dental clinics, general or specialized dentistry like pediatric and maxillofacial.

Dental Assistant Skills

Some of the skills required for dental assistants to possess so as to boost their performance on the job include the following:

  • Ability to follow rules and orders
  • Ability in arranging and organizing tools to be used by the dentist
  • Ability to gather the tools together after treatment.

See detailed dental assistant skills here.

Certified Dental Assistant Salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the dental assistant median annual salary for 2010 was $33, 470 and $16.09 hourly.

The salaries of dental assistants can differ according to state. The annual pay for West Virginia dental assistant low earners is approximately $18,490, and Alaska City’s highest earners receive $56,760 approximately.

In San Francisco, CA, highest paid dental assistants earn about $59,370 yearly, while Santa Fe, NM, lowest paid dental assistants earn about $17,950 yearly.

The 2014 survey of DANB’s salary stated that the average salary of a DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) is $19 per hour. And according to the 2013 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual median salary of Certified Dental Assistants (CDA) is approximately $34,900.