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Become A Dental Assistant

So you want to become a dental assistant? There are lots of ways you can work towards becoming a dental assistant, and the specific process will vary depending on your location. The requirements vary by state for accredited programs, state exams, and the training experience that may be required to become a qualified dental assistant. Generally, most states don’t require formal education or training to become a dental assistant at the entry level, though additional certification is usually required in order to perform expanded duties. Some states also require additional training or certification before allowing dental assistants to operate x-ray equipment. Click here to find dental assisting schools and training programs in your area, or view the requirements in your state to identify the level of training, certification, and licensing you’ll need in order to enter the profession.

Becoming A Dental Assistant – Requirements

While the specific requirements will vary from state to state, here’s a general outline of the process. The process to becoming a dental assistant can be broken down into a few major requirements. This consists of:

  • Educational requirements – This can vary from a high school diploma to a 1-2 year accredited dental assisting program.
  • Training – Some states require specific accredited training for certain functions, while other states put the training responsibility on the supervising dentist.
  • Certification – Depending on the duties you want to perform as a dental assistant, some states may require that you gain additional certification. Some states also require certification in order to perform basic dental assisting procedures.
  • Licensing – Once you meet the dental assisting requirements in your state, you may still need to apply for licensing by the state board in order to practice, or to perform certain expanded functions.

become a dental assistant


If you are looking to become a dental assistant you must find out the specific requirements in your state for each of these steps. As of 2011, only 38 states currently require certification through DANB (Dental Assisting National Board) to be qualified for in-state practicing of dental assisting. Here are the basics on what you can expect working towards being a qualified dental assistant:


Education is a major part of becoming a dental assistant no matter where you are located. Specific educational requirements will vary by state. In some states, there are no formal educational requirements, while other states will require that aspiring dental assistants complete an accreditation program in order to work as a dental assistant. These dental assistant programs are usually one year in length and are offered by many community colleges and vocational schools. Two year dental assistant programs are not as common, but may be used to work towards an associate’s degree. Upon successful completion of a dental assistant program you may be required to complete the certification exam to become a certified dental assistant, depending on the requirements of your state. Click here to see if your state requires certification in order to perform basic dental assisting tasks.

What Do Dental Assisting Program Teach?

The dental assisting accredited programs combine classroom and laboratory studies to provide complete education to students on parts of the mouth. Students will learn all about the functionality and composition of the gums, jaw, and teeth, as well as how to work and properly operate various dental instruments. The accredited programs are supervised by an experienced professional who will be there to help you. Dental assisting is a field that is largely expanding. There were only 259 dental assisting programs that were approved by the American Dental Association in 2002. This number has increased by 10% with there now being over 285 accredited dental assisting programs in the country. With many educational institutes becoming accredited and achieving reaccreditation, there will be no shortage of schools to choose from in your state. With many different programs and state regulations it is important to determine what educational requirements are set for your state before looking for a particular program to enroll in.


Training experience is essential for any aspiring dental assistant to become comfortable in the work field. The training requirements are varied by location but regardless of the extent of training needed it remains a mandatory requirement across the country. In states that allow entry level dental assistants to work with no formal training, on-the-job training will be of utmost importance. On-the-job training for any qualified dental assistant will allow for both the dental assistant and dentist to adapt to the new working environment. The duties and tasks required to be performed by a dental assistant will vary by office and can differ depending on the dentist that you work with. The training period will allow for the dental assistant to get comfortable with the workspace, co-workers, and equipment that must be used. The trainee will learn much more that will help prepare him or her for the job such as how to handle patients, paperwork, and what the latest terminology and equipment is and how it should be used. The on-the-job training experience is often incorporated into accredited programs as a form of apprenticeship to prepare the student for the work field. When first starting a dental assistant job the graduate will still require training to be fully appropriate for the job. The length of the training period will be dependent on the graduate’s ability to adapt and learn but it is a gradual process as there are always new things to learn. It is expected that the full on-the-job training period will take a graduate between a few weeks and months to complete.


DANB certification is required in 38 states. This certification is also required in the U.S. Air Force, the Department of Veterans Affairs, and the District of Columbia. The 2010 Salary Survey instructed by the DANB displayed that DANB certified dental assistants make over two dollars an hour more than non-DANB certified dental assistants. If DANB certification is recognized or required in your state then you must meet the requirements to qualify for the exam. This requires graduating from an accredited dental assisting program or your high school diploma and sufficient on-the-job training. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) certification is another requirement to qualify to write the DANB exam. Other DANB exams, such as the Radiation Health and Safety exam, may be required or may be beneficial to upgrade to as well. The DANB certification must be maintained through annual renewal which requires a renewal fee and 12 Continuing Dental Education (CDE) credits each year. The cost of renewal and credits required depend on the amount of DANB certifications that you possess. You can view the DANB Application Form to get full details on the requirements and process to write a DANB certification exam or seek renewal of a current DANB certification.


Finally, dental assistant who meets all the requirements to practice in a state may still need to be licensed or DANB registered to be qualified to perform certain tasks within the dentist office. The specific requirements depend on the state you are in. You can check with the board of dentistry in your state to find out if you need to apply for licensing.