How Do I Become a Registered Dental Assistant?

Explore the career requirements for registered dental assistants. Get the facts about the typical duties, education requirements and licensing information to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Registered Dental Assistant?

Registered dental assistants help dentists with both patient care and administrative tasks though how involved you are with administrative tasks may depend on your employer. It is generally recommended that you have good people skills, keep organized records and are good with your hands, since dental assistants frequently work with small tools. As a dental assistant, you will typically work in an office environment with regular weekday hours. Nights and weekends may be required for emergency care or extended office hours.

The following chart gives an overview of the career.

Training Required Certificate or diploma program, or on-the-job training
Education Field of Study Dental assisting
Licensure or Certification Often required; varies by state
Key Skills Preparing instruments, keeping patients' mouths dry during procedures, developing x-rays, scheduling appointments
Job Growth (2014-24) 18% (much faster than average)*
Median Salary (May 2015) $35,980*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Educational Training Will I Need to Become a Registered Dental Assistant?

If you have aspirations of becoming a registered dental assistant, you might begin at the high school level by taking courses in office procedures, biology and chemistry. Next, enroll in a dental-assisting program that is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), a part of the American Dental Association. As of 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported there were approximately 300 programs approved by the CODA offered in technical, community and junior colleges.

Certificate or diploma programs may include classes such as dental materials, preclinical procedures, oral anatomy, dental radiology, biomedical science and chair-side assisting. If you decide on an associate's degree program, you will take additional courses such as general microbiology, applied mathematics, sociology, algebra and pharmacology and medical emergencies. Your accredited program of study must prepare you to take the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) examination. After passing the examination, you will receive the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential.

How Do I Acquire Experience?

Upon completion of your educational program, you might participate in an internship or receive on-the-job training as a new hire. Experienced dental assistants or your supervising dentist will give you specific training in daily office operations. You might learn the particular filing techniques, patient-relations skills and front office procedures for the office in which you are working.

What Job Duties Might I Have?

As a dental assistant, some of your responsibilities will include taking and developing x-rays and applying fluoride treatments and tooth sealants. You might also sterilize equipment, make impressions of teeth, polish teeth and make, apply and remove temporary crowns. It will be your duty to give patients instructions on at-home oral care. In addition, you may manage the front office and maintain treatment files. You must also observe infection control procedures and ensure that OSHA regulations are complied with.

How Do I Become Licensed?

The duties of dental assistants are regulated at the state level. If you have graduated from a CODA-approved dental-assisting program or if you have accumulated two years of full-time experience as a dental assistant, you will be qualified to sit for the DANB certification test, which is recognized by the majority of states. A certification in cardiopulmonary resuscitation will be necessary as well.

Additional training and certification may be needed if your job requires radiological duties. To ensure that you have the required skills and knowledge, you may take the Radiation Health and Safety Examination, which is also offered by DANB.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, some states allow dental assistants to perform coronal polishing, or apply sealant, fluoride or topical anesthetic; these dental assistants must be licensed or registered with DANB.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some similar careers include those of dental hygienists, medical assistants or nursing assistants. To become a dental hygienist, you need an associate's degree, and you'll spend the majority of your time inspecting and cleaning teeth. Medical assistants work in a variety of healthcare settings and take basic vital signs, assist with paperwork and keep patient records. Medical assistants are often not required to have education beyond a high school diploma or GED, though some postsecondary training is usually preferred. Nursing assistants work closely with patients and registered nurses providing basic care to patients. You will need to complete a program approved by your state and participate in specific job training once hired.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Fortis College

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    Popular programs at Fortis College:

    • Certificates

    Campus Locations:

    • Maryland: Towson
  • Herzing University

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  • Grand Canyon University

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    Popular programs at Grand Canyon University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

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  • Penn Foster

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    • Certificates

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  • Regent University

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    Popular programs at Regent University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master

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  • Keiser University

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    Popular programs at Keiser University:

    • Associate Programs

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  • Northcentral University

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  • Penn Foster High School

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  • Indiana Wesleyan University

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    Popular programs at Indiana Wesleyan University:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees
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  • Southern New Hampshire University

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    Popular programs at Southern New Hampshire University:

    • Master

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