Dental Assistants


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Most dental assistant positions are entry-level. They usually require little or no experience and no education beyond high school. High school students who wish to work as dental assistants should take courses in general science, biology, health, chemistry, and business management. Typing is also an important skill for dental assistants, as are computer classes (such as database management). Speech classes will help students to develop their confidence and public speaking skills. 

Postsecondary Training

Dental assistants commonly acquire their skills on the job. Many, however, go on to receive training after high school at trade schools, technical institutes, and community and junior colleges that offer dental assisting programs. Indeed, some states require dental assistants to attend an accredited program following high school. Students who complete two-year college programs receive associate's degrees, while those who complete one-year trade and technical school programs earn a certificate or diploma. Entrance requirements to these programs require a high school diploma and good grades in high school science, typing, and English. Some postsecondary schools require an interview or written examination, and some require that applicants pass physical and dental examinations. The American Dental Association's Commission on Dental Accreditation ( accredits about 250 of these programs. Some four- to six-month nonaccredited courses in dental assisting are also available from private vocational schools. 

Accredited programs instruct students in dental assisting skills and theory through classes, lectures, and laboratory and preclinical experience. Students take courses in English, speech, and psychology as well as in the biomedical sciences, including anatomy, microbiology, and nutrition. Courses in dental science cover subjects such as oral anatomy and pathology, and dental radiography. Students also gain practical experience in chairside assisting and office management by working in dental schools and local dental clinics that are affiliated with their program.

Graduates of such programs may be assigned a greater variety of tasks initially and may receive higher starting salaries than those with high school diplomas alone.

The armed forces also provides training for dental assistants. Visit to learn more about training and career opportunities in the military. 

Other Education or Training

The American Dental Assistants Association offers more than 70 online continuing education courses that allow dental assistants to keep their skills up to date and qualify for its fellowship and mastership credentials. Recent classes included Communication in the Dental Office: Verbal and Non-Verbal, Maintaining Proper Dental Records, and Hand Hygiene for the Dental Professional. The American Dental Association and dental associations at the state and local levels also provide professional development classes and webinars.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Dental assistants may wish to obtain one or more certification credentials from the Dental Assisting National Board, but this is only required for employment in some states. Certification shows that an assistant has met certain standards of professional competence. The following credentials are available from the board: national entry level dental assistant, certified dental assistant (CDA), certified orthodontic assistant, certified preventive functions dental assistant, and certified restorative functions dental assistant. Eligibility requirement vary by credential. Visit for more information. To keep their credentials, assistants must either prove their skills through retesting or acquire further education.

Additionally, members of the American Dental Assistants Association who complete continuing education credits can receive fellowship and mastership credentials.

Dental assistants in more than 30 states are allowed to take X-rays (under a dentist's direction) only after completing a precise training program and passing a test. Completing the program for CDA certification fulfills this requirement. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Dental assistants frequently receive on-the-job training from a dentist in a variety of important areas. They require a knowledge of dental materials and must be well organized to ensure that the proper instruments are available to the dentist during procedures. Attention to detail is also important for dental assistants who must sterilize instruments before procedures, understand the patient's needs during the procedure, and maintain records of the patient's past dental treatments. A dental assistant's pleasant chairside manner helps patients feel comfortable while they are undergoing what may be a difficult procedure, and proper instruction afterward ensures that patients follow effective dental hygiene.