What Are the Requirements for Certified Dental Assistant Certification?

If you are a dental assistant who is looking to demonstrate your skills to your employer and broaden your career opportunities, you could pursue a professional certification. The Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) designation is offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). In some states, the CDA meets mandatory requirements for state dental assistant regulations. The CDA designation is also recognized by the American Dental Association. Learn more about the requirements here. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Certified Dental Assistant Overview

As a dental assistant, you will serve as a helper to a dentist. You might pass the dentist tools and other items he or she needs while working on a patient. Other duties could include updating patient records, laying out equipment before procedures, making sure patients are comfortable, administering suction and rinsing patients' mouths during procedures. You might also instruct patients on oral care and apply protectant to their teeth.

Most states have some type of regulation for dental assistants. In some states, you might need to hold a license or be registered. Certification from the DANB meets legal requirements in some states. The CDA designation from the DANB could serve as states' primary legal requirement or it might be used as a supplement for licensure eligibility.

Important Information About Dental Assistant Certification

Degree Levels Associate's degree and certificate programs
Possible Careers Dental assistant, dental consultant, organization accreditor
Common Courses Radiology, clinical procedures, anatomy
Online Availability Available fully online and as hybrid program with externship
Median Salary (2018) $38,660 (for all dental assistants
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 19% growth (for all dental assistants

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

CDA Examination Overview

The CDA examination consists of three individual sections, the General Chairside Assisting (GC), the Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) and the Infection Control (ICE). The complete package has a total of 320 questions in a multiple-choice format.

The GC test contains 120 questions and focuses on topics such as clinical data recording, chairside procedures, dental materials, laboratory procedures, patient education, emergency prevention and office management. The RHS examination consists of 100 questions and emphasizes radiation and X-ray processing, labeling techniques, safety and evaluation. The ICE asks 100 questions that cover patient healthcare, worker education, contamination and disease prevention, safe conditions, sterilization procedures and occupational safety. You can take all of the tests at one time or separately, though you must pass all three within a 5-year period to earn the CDA designation.

Eligibility Requirements

Neither the RHS or ICE tests require you to complete any qualifying steps, and you can complete both tests together. However, the organization offers three criteria options for the GC examination in addition to holding CPR certification. You could graduate from an accredited dental assisting or dental hygiene program or accumulate at least 3,500 hours of dental assisting experience in the past 2-4 years. Alternatively, if you had earned a CDA in the past, hold a doctoral degree in dentistry or are a graduate of a foreign dental program, you could qualify to sit for the examination.


Your CDA designation will be valid for one year. After that time, you can re-certify by maintaining a current CPR certification, earning a minimum of 12 credits of continuing education in dental-related areas and paying an annual fee. Continuing education can be completed through various programs offered by dental organizations or colleges. The American Dental Assistants Association (ADDA) offers continuing education courses that are acceptable for re-certification and which explore topics related to dental assisting.

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