If you want to become a dental assistant in the United States you can do it two ways. That is by attending formal training at an accredited dental assisting program, or through on the job training through your employer. The time could not be much better to become a dental assistant with bls.gov predicting that the field of dental assisting will see 19% growth over the next decade, which is well above the national average! Plus, dental work is a field that does not get smaller due to population growth, so growth is very consistent and sustained.
What is the process to become an Dental Assistant?
In some states it is mandatory to take accredited training before employment as a dental assistant. In other states you can learn on the job to be a dental assistant with on the job training by the dentist. Below we will show you the path with accredited training since the on the job training speaks for itself.
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STEP 1 – Be 18 Years old and Have or get your H.S. diploma or GED
Most states require that dental assistant be at least 18 years of age for entry level dental assisting positions and all states require they be 18 for any certified dental assistant position. There some states that do have dental assistant trainee positions where they work with high school programs to train basic entry level dental assistants. But they are not very common. The positions that require candidates be at least 18 are the national designation of (CDA) from DANB, the (RDA) Registered Dental Assistant, the (EFDA) Expanded Functions Dental Assistant or the (EDDA) Expanded Duties Dental Assistant to name a few of the designations and titles in some of the various states in the country give dental assistants. We will get in to detail about each one them below.
STEP 2 – Take accredited Dental Assistant Training
Because there are differing levels to dental assistants and what it requires to become each level, candidates need to know if their states do actually require all their dental assistants to complete an accredited program and pass a certification exam. An example is in many states, the basic entry level dental assistant can train on the job and do basic support procedures under the supervision of the dentist without getting any formal training or certification and they just learn on the job. But the ability to do any expanded functions requires either a DANB CDA certification or completing a state dental board approved dental assistant program in the respective state.
Where you can Find Accredited Dental Assistant Programs
You will find that most programs are offered at local community colleges, but they are also offered at vocational/trade or technical schools. Most dental assistant programs are 1 year in length and culminate with a certificate or diploma. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), part of the American Dental Association accredited nearly 300 dental assisting training programs in 2017.
Here is a database of CODA Accredited Dental Assistant Schools from the ADA.
About Online Dental Assisting classes
Online education is available in the dental assistant field. Be sure to check with your school to see what their availability is for online dental assistant training. Most schools and programs allow general education courses online at the minimum.
Step 3 – Complete the Dental Assisting Program and Clinical Training Requirements
Successful completion of your accredited training is critical to advancing to the next step in the process to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require a number of hours to be completed practicing the dental procedures and some states requires specific training on top of your certification and training program.
Step 4 – Get your Dental Assisting Certification
At the end of your program there is a certification exam. Passing this test gets you right on the doorstep of success! You are as close as you can be to your goal once you do this! Each state has differing requirements for dental assistants in their state so be sure to check in with your states dental board to find out. That being said the main national certification in the United States is the DANB (CDA) Certification. This certification opens up many jobs in the dental assisting field for you and sets you up to get expanded functions titles and certification quickly.
What does a Dental Assistant do?
Dental assistants are really important to the dental office and to the dentist. There are many tasks that they are responsible for. Below we cover them in detail.
Dental Assisting Job Duties
Many states allow dental assistants to perform the duties listed below without any training and education outside of the on the job training by the dentist. Entry level basic dental assistants typically do the following tasks and duties on the job:
Greet and make all patients feel comfortable
Prep all patients for treatments/procedures
Prep work are for procedures/treatments
Sterilize all necessary dental equipment and instruments
Hand instruments to dentists during procedures
Keep mouth of patient dry with suction
Show patients proper oral hygiene
Process any x-rays and lab tasks
Maintain records of dental work
Handle Patient billing and payments
It is common for some dental assistants to be able to do some higher level procedures (called expanded functions) in some states and with extra certifications. A detailed list of these expanded functions and certification are below.
Different Dental Assistant Certifications Available
Below we detail out all the CODA approved dental assistant certification that will give you the ability to do expanded functions and expand your carer ceiling in all 50 states. All states recognize these certifications and they can be used to become positions like a CDA, RDA, EFDA and EDDA.
The Average Salary and Pay for Dental Assistants
According to the latest government statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), the median salary is $37,630 per year and $18.09 per hour. Both are above average for allied health positions.
Dental Assistant Salary by State
Area Name / Hourly Avg. Wage / Annual Avg Salary
Alabama / $16.10 / $33,490
Alaska / $22.07 / $45,900
Arizona / $19.03 / $39,580
Arkansas / $16.28 / $33,860
California / $19.20 / $39,930
Colorado / $18.59 / $38,660
Connecticut / $21.06 / $43,800
Delaware / $19.76 / $41,090
Florida / $18.23 / $37,920
Georgia / $17.78 / $36,980
Hawaii / $17.93 / $37,290
Idaho / $16.64 / $34,620
Illinois / $18.76 / $39,030
Indiana / $18.78 / $39,070
Iowa / $19.18 / $39,900
Kansas / $17.12 / $35,610
Kentucky / $16.78 / $34,900
Louisiana / $14.26 / $29,660
Maine / $19.71 / $40,990
Maryland / $20.10 / $41,820
Massachusetts / $21.52 / $44,770
Michigan / $17.54 / $36,480
Minnesota / $23.45 / $48,770
Mississippi / $16.04 / $33,360
Missouri / $17.74 / $36,900
Montana / $17.81 / $37,050
Nebraska / $16.98 / $35,310
Nevada / $17.62 / $36,650
New Hampshire / $22.68 / $47,170
New Jersey / $20.40 / $42,440
New Mexico / $16.77 / $34,880
New York / $17.87 / $37,170
North Carolina / $19.77 / $41,130
North Dakota / $21.93 / $45,600
Ohio / $18.44 / $38,360
Oklahoma / $16.91 / $35,180
Oregon / $20.42 / $42,470
Pennsylvania / $18.21 / $37,870
Rhode Island / $19.95 / $41,490
South Carolina / $18.32 / $38,110
South Dakota / $18.46 / $38,410
Tennessee / $17.35 / $36,090
Texas / $17.27 / $35,920
Utah / $14.55 / $30,270
Vermont / $21.10 / $43,900
Virginia / $16.83 / $35,010
Washington / $20.60 / $42,850
West Virginia / $20.45 / $42,540
Wisconsin / $14.36 / $29,860
Wyoming / $18.49 / $38,450
Wyoming / $16.48 / $34,280
What is the job outlook for Dental Assistants?
There were 332,000 jobs in 2016 for dental assistants and most of those jobs are in dental offices, As you can see from the table below.
Dentists Office 91%
Government Office 2%
Physicians Office 2%
As we wrote about above, the current job outlook is great at a 19% growth over the next decade!! Becoming a dental assistant is an outstanding choice for a medical field career.
Dental Assisting Requirements by State
Click on the link to your state, see exactly what your state requires to become every level of dental assistant in your state and the dental assistant schools available to you in your state.