Dental Assistant Certification
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- You can become eligible for the DANB Certified Dental Assistant Exam by completing an associate program or 3,500 hours of work experience.
- To become a certified dental assistant, you must pass all three sections of the DANB exam.
- The dentist office industry employs the highest concentration of dental assistants.
You don't need to have years of education and costly degrees to work in a dental office. In fact, as a dental assistant, you can get your career started in a matter of months.
Dental assistants have a lower educational barrier to entry compared to other roles in dentistry, but many states do require dental assistants to earn and maintain certification. More than 37,000 dental assistants nationwide have Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) certification.
While the dental assistant certification grants you eligibility for dental assistant roles, so will more specialized certifications. For example, you could earn your certification in orthodontics, preventative functions, or dental infection prevention and control. Keep reading to learn more about dental assistant certification.
What Are the Requirements for Dental Assistant Certification?
- You need a high school diploma, or its equivalent, to begin your education and training as a dental assistant.
- Once you have decided to get your dental assistant certification, you will need to enroll in a dental assistant educational program — whether it's a two-year associate degree or a shorter certificate program. Community colleges and vocational schools offer dental assistant programs with online and hybrid options.
- For those who do not want to do an educational program, there are also options to do supervised work experience or an externship to gain the necessary knowledge for certification.
- After completing your program (or work experience), you'll need to earn CPR certification, which can take 1-3 months, before taking your dental assistant certification exam.
- Finally, you will take your Dental Assisting National Board Exam. It has three different sections that you must pass, and you'll need to study in advance for each of them.
Once you have passed your DANB exam, you'll be certified. You can then pursue and apply for jobs as a dental assistant.
What Skills Will I Learn With Dental Assistant Certification?
With a dental assistant certification, you'll gain the technical skills to perform dental procedures with medical equipment. You'll also build the soft skills to work in a team setting with patients and the life-saving skills to respond to emergency situations.
Dental assistants work with complex medical equipment every day on the job. These include dental tools like drills, X-rays, and the materials used for filling cavities. Your understanding of them will be helpful as you work and if you decide to pursue further education in the dental field.
Dental assistants need strong communication and interpersonal skills to collaborate with dentists and reassure nervous or stressed patients. Attention to detail, organization, and professionalism can also help you work efficiently and provide the best experience for those trusting you with their dental care.
To become a certified dental assistant, you must become certified in CPR by a DANB-approved provider. This is in case of any emergencies at the dental practice where you work. However, CPR is a valuable life skill to have outside of work as well — and it can potentially be life-saving.
What Jobs Can I Get With Dental Assistant Certification?
Your dental assistant certification allows you to work in dental offices in either clinical or administrative settings. The certification can also lead to full-time and part-time jobs.
Full-Time Dental Assistant
Once you've earned your dental assistant certification, you can pursue work as a dental assistant at an individual dentist's office or larger dental practice. As a full-time dental assistant, you will likely be eligible for employee benefits, including medical insurance and sick leave.
As a dental assistant, you'll need to provide chairside assistance during dental and dental-surgical procedures, often working with highly specialized medical tools. Dental assistants are essential during more involved dental procedures, including fillings, extractions, and crowns.
Part-Time Dental Assistant
Some certified dental assistants may not want to work full time, either due to family responsibilities, personal health concerns, or any number of other factors. If that's the case for you, consider becoming a part-time dental assistant.
As a part-time dental assistant, you'll perform the same tasks as a full-time dental assistant in a clinical setting, only on a part-time or flexible basis. This also allows you to build resume experience, which can be valuable if you later decide to pursue a full-time dental assistant role.
If you hold certification as a dental assistant but aren't sure you want a full-time clinical role, you might consider applying to work as a dental practice receptionist.
While a receptionist is largely an administrative role, some dental practices may prefer a receptionist who is also a certified dental assistant. This is due to their greater understanding of dentistry and their ability to fill in with light dental-related duties if necessary.
How Much Money Can I Make With Dental Assistant Certification?
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that dental offices employ a sizable portion of all dental assistants — about 33% — making them a top employer when compared to other industries. The demand for preventative dental services may grow as ongoing research explores the relationship between oral health and general health.
Dental assistants are also becoming more in demand as the large and aging baby-boomer generation develops oral health conditions. Also, people tend to keep more of their original teeth now than in generations prior, increasing the demand for preventative care.
Frequently Asked Questions About a Dental Assistant Certification
How much does a dental assistant certification cost?
The DANB dental assistant certification, which consists of three exams taken together, costs $450. You can also take the exams separately, but you'll end up paying between $270-$375 for each exam.
Another factor to consider when figuring out the cost is whether you'll qualify for the exam through work experience or an associate degree. You'll need to pay for an associate degree, so the true cost of earning a dental assistant certification varies.
Can you work as a dental assistant without being certified?
It depends on where you live. You can check online for your state's education and certification requirements to work as a dental assistant.
Even if you live in one of the states that does not require dental assistant certification, having it may make you a more attractive candidate to employers.
What's the difference between a dental assistant degree vs. a dental assistant certification?
A dental assistant degree requires completing an associate degree program, while a dental assistant certification is a series of exams from the DANB.
You don't always need an associate degree to qualify for dental assistant roles, but you will need a dental assistant certification to work in many states in the U.S.