What is a Certified Dental Assistant?

A certified dental assistant is a credentialed professional whose main responsibility is helping a dentist treat patients.

Job Duties

During the course of a day certified dental assistants perform many tasks including preparing patients for their treatment, sterilizing dental equipment, collecting patients’ dental and medical information, taking x-rays, and educating patients on how to properly care for their gums and teeth.

Necessary Skills

If you want to work as a dental assistant, you should have:

  • Good manual dexterity
  • Good communication skills
  • Good listening skills
  • Good time management skills

Educational Requirements

Depending on state regulations, you may be able to gain employment with a high school diploma or GED and receive on-the-job training. If your state does not allow for this, you will need to enroll in an accredited dental program. You can find one at a community college, dental school, technical school, or university. The length of time for completion ranges from nine months to two years depending on if you are working toward an associate degree, certificate, or diploma. Courses include:

  • Chairside assisting
  • Clinical chair side practicum
  • Dental lab procedures
  • Dental language
  • Dental profession basics
  • Office procedures
  • Oral anatomy


This is not a required part of your schooling, however, it is a great way to practice your newly learned skills in chairside assisting, oral anatomy, dental pathology, dental radiology, and dental pharmacology.  Listing an externship along with certification on your resume can make you stand out among job other applicants.



Most states require dental assistants to pass the Certified Dental Assistants exam administered by the Dental Assisting National Board. Before you can take the exam, you must have CPR certification and:

  • Have graduated from an accredited program, or
  • Have a high school diploma or GED and two years full-time or four years part-time dental assistant work experience

certified dental assistantThe exam, which takes about four hours to complete, consists of three main sections:

  • General Chairside – 120 multiple choice questions
  • Infection Control – 100 multiple choice questions
  • Radiation Health and Safety – 100 multiple choice questions

You can take the three sections at the same time or you can take them individually as long as you complete all three portions within a five-year period. You must score at least 400 in order to become certified. Once you’ve earned your credential, you need to renew your certification every year. To do this, you must take at least 12 credits of continuing dental education.

Other Certifications

Dental assistants who want to work in a specialized area will also need one of the following certifications:

  • Orthodontic Dental Assistance
  • Preventive Functions Dental Assistant
  • Restorative Functions Dental Assistant

Benefits of Being Certified

Even if you live in one of the twenty states that do not require certification, you should still sit for the exam if it is recognized in your area. Typically certified dental assistants:

  • Are hired over non-certified applicants
  • Are better prepared to answer questions during a dental assistant job interview
  • Are more easily trusted by their employer than those who did not earn certification
  • Earn a higher salary than their non-certified colleagues

Career Advancement

A certified dental assistant can choose to become an insurance claims adjuster, office manager, or sales representative. And many other certified dental assistants return to school to become a dental hygienist.

Job Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there will be a 31% employment growth for this field until 2020.

According to the Bureau, the median annual wage for dental assistants in 2013 was $35,640. The top paying states are New Hampshire, Minnesota, Alaska, and Massachusetts.

If this sounds like an exciting career to you, contact us to learn more about working in the dental field.