Dental Assistant Certification

Dental assistants provide an important service every day at work. Learn how you can become a dental assistant and if it's right for you.

portrait of Ellery Weil
by Ellery Weil

Updated June 14, 2022

Edited by Madison Hoehn
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Dental Assistant Certification
Image Credit: Robert Daly / OJO Images / Getty Images


While some people get nervous about a trip to the dentist, everyone wants a healthy smile. So dentistry, as a profession, is going to be around for a long time to come.

But there are many other occupations in the dentistry field than just the dentists themselves. Dental hygienists and dental assistants have important roles in any dental practice.

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Ready to start your journey?

Being a dental assistant can be an interesting and rewarding job. If you are interested in this career path, read on to learn how you can become certified as a dental assistant and start applying for jobs in dentistry.

What Are the Requirements for Dental Assistant Certification?

  1. You need a high school diploma, or its equivalent, to begin your education and training as a dental assistant.
  2. 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. Dental assistant programs are available through community colleges and vocational schools, with online and hybrid options also available.
  3. 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.
  4. After completing your program (or work experience), you will need to earn CPR certification, which can take 1-3 months, before taking your dental assistant certification exam.
  5. Finally, you will take your Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) exam. It has three different sections that you will need to pass, and you will need to study in advance for each of them.
  6. Once you have passed your DANB exam, you will be certified. You can then pursue and apply for jobs as a dental assistant.

What Skills Will I Learn With Dental Assistant Certification?

Technical Skills

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.

Communication Skills

As you study for your dental assistant certification, you will be learning how to interact with other dental professionals at your job and the patients who will be coming into your practice. This includes patients who may be experiencing anxiety, physical pain, or a combination of the two. The communication skills you'll learn for this role can translate into interpersonal communication skills that may be valuable in a wide variety of personal and professional settings.

CPR

To become a certified dental assistant, you will need to 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 can be 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?

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, your job will be to provide chairside assistance during dental and dental-surgical procedures, often working with highly specialized medical tools. Dental assistants are essential to have on hand 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 will be performing 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.

Dental Receptionist

If you have 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 receptionist is largely an administrative role, many 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?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assistants earn a median annual wage of $38,660, as of May 2021. In addition, the number of jobs for dental assistants is projected to grow 11% from 2020-2030. This is faster than the national average growth rate of 8% for all U.S. professions.

The five U.S. states where dental assistants average the highest wages are:

Frequently Asked Questions About a Dental Assistant Certification

How much does a dental assistant certification cost?

The price to become a dental assistant varies greatly depending on the dental assistant educational program you choose.

Some community colleges and vocational schools offer scholarships or reduced tuition to help students afford their education. Supervised work experience or externships may not charge money at all. They may even be a source of some income for learners.

The DANB exam is a necessary step for all aspiring certified dental assistants, and the exam fee is $450. Keep that fee in mind as you figure out the total cost of getting your dental assistant certification.

Can you work as a dental assistant without being certified?

It depends where you live. Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia require certification through the Dental Assisting National Board in order to work as a dental assistant.

Even if you are located in one of the states that does not require it, having your dental assistant certification will likely make you a more attractive candidate to employers.

What are the requirements to be a dental assistant?

Depending on which state you are in, certification may or may not be required to work as a dental assistant.

However, in thirty-nine U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and federal organizations like the U.S. Army, it is a requirement to be certified by the DANB to work as a dental assistant.

Work experience can also open more doors. A job candidate with previous work experience as an entry-level dental assistant will have a greater opportunity to pursue senior-level dental assisting jobs.

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