How do I Become a Dental Assistant?

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  • Written By: Hillary Flynn
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 19 November 2018
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Dental assistants perform a variety of duties in a dental office. To become a dental assistant, one should complete an academic program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation within the American Dental Association (ADA). Programs vary in length. Some certificate programs can be completed in less than a year, but some may choose to complete an associate's degree which requires at least two years of school. Some dental assistants are also trained on the job, but these positions may be hard to obtain.

To gain admittance to a dental assistant program a high school diploma or GED is usually required. It's a good idea to take classes in science, health, and office administration while in high school, but it's not a requirement for admittance to a program to become a dental assistant. Since dental assistants do everything from helping the dentist with patients to running the front office, a wide variety of skills and interests are required. Typical tasks include taking x-rays, taking medical histories, checking patient's blood pressure, teaching patients how to brush properly, filing, answering the phone, and using the computer to manage billing and appointments.


In some states a license, certification, or registration may be required to become a dental assistant. Usually this means a dental assistant must complete an accredited program and pass a licensing exam. Other states require education only, and some states have no requirements. Regulations are highly dependent on location as well as actual duties performed. Many states limit the procedures dental assistants may perform and some tasks, such as taking x-rays, may require additional education. The majority of states acknowledge certification accredited by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

Many who want to become a dental assistant will want to advance in the profession. With more experience and more education, dental assistants may be allowed to take on higher level tasks and earn a better wage. Some will choose to work predominately on the patient end and some may find the front office tasks are more desirable. Dental assistants with excellent office management skills may be promoted to office manager, and those who are great with patients may want to pursue additional education and obtain more credentials such as a radiology certification.

The most important thing to accomplish for those who want to become a dental assistant is to research regulations for each specific location. It's vital to check with the state as well as local dentists to determine the unique requirements for a particular area. It's also a good idea to investigate several academic programs before committing to one. Program length and requirements are greatly varied.



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