Commonly Used Terms

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Understanding Credentialing

This page contains definitions of commonly used terms and acronyms that you may run across while browsing this website or throughout the process of obtaining and maintaining DANB certification. These definitions should also help clarify commonly confused terms in the dental assisting industry, such as licensure, registration and certification.

Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts (PDF)
DANB's Credentialing Terms 

Commonly Used Terms

  • Accreditation

    The voluntary process by which a nongovernmental agency grants a time-limited recognition to an institution, organization, business or other entity after verifying that it has met predetermined and standardized criteria.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts, 2005. 

  • Applicant

    An applicant is an individual who declares interest in earning a credential offered by a certification program, usually through a request for information and the submission of materials. See "Candidate."

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Assessment Instruments

    Assessment instruments are several standardized methods for determining if candidates possess the necessary knowledge and/or skill related to the purpose of the certification.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Candidate

    A candidate is an individual who has met the eligibility qualifications for, but has not yet earned, a credential awarded through a certification program. See "Applicant."

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • CDA

    CDA is the acronym for Certified Dental Assistant™. The CDA exam is one of DANB's national certification exams.

  • CDPMA

    CDPMA is the acronym for Certified Dental Practice Management Administrator. DANB discontinued accepting CDPMA applications on May 31, 2008. However, DANB continues to recognize those who have earned and continue to maintain the CDPMA certification by meeting DANB's recertification requirements.

  • Certificant

    A certificant is an individual who holds a professional certification or who has earned a credential awarded through a certification program.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Certificate Holder

    A certificate holder is a person who has earned a certificate after completing a continuing education program or course of study. Not to be confused with a certificant.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Certificate of Attendance or Participation

    A certificate of attendance or participation is issued after an individual attends or participates in a particular meeting or course. Usually, there is no knowledge assessed prior to issuing this type of certificate. A certificate of attendance or participation is not a credential, because the recipients are not required to demonstrate competence according to professional or trade standards.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Certificate of Knowledge-Based Competency

    A certificate of knowledge-based competency exam tests a relatively narrow scope of knowledge used to perform duties within a specific profession. This scope is determined by either job analysis or subject matter experts. Those with certificates of knowledge-based competency may display their certificates, but they have not earned initials to use after their names, nor can they say they are certified or have earned certification. Certificates of knowledge-based competency do not need to be renewed.

  • Certificate Program

    A certificate program is a training program on a topic for which participants receive a certificate after attendance and/or completion of the coursework. Some programs also require successful demonstration of attainment of the course objectives. One who completes a professional certificate program is known as a certificate holder. A credential is usually not granted at the completion of a certificate program. There are three types of certificate programs: knowledge-based certificate, curriculum-based certificate and certificate of attendance or participation. (Please see these individual terms for definitions.)

    Defining Features of Quality Certification and Assessment-Based Certificate Program, ICE 2008.

  • Certification

    1. A process, often voluntary, by which individuals who have demonstrated the level of knowledge and skill required in the profession, occupation, role or skill are identified to the public and other stakeholders.

    2. The voluntary process by which a nongovernmental entity grants a time-limited recognition and use of a credential to an individual after verifying that he or she has met predetermined and standardized criteria. It is the vehicle that a profession or occupation uses to differentiate among its members, using standards, sometimes developed through a consensus-driven process, based on existing legal and psychometric requirements.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts, 2005.

  • Certification Agency

    A certification agency is the organizational or administrative unit that offers and/or operates a certification program.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Certification Board

    A certification board is a group of individuals appointed or elected to govern one or more certification programs as well as the certification agency, and is responsible for all certification decision-making, including governance.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • COA

    COA is the acronym for Certified Orthodontic Assistant. The COA exam is one of DANB's national certification exams.

  • COMSA

    COMSA is the acronym for Certified Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Assistant. DANB discontinued offering the national COMSA certification exam in 2000. However, DANB continues to recognize those who have earned and continue to maintain the COMSA certification by meeting DANB's recertification requirements.

  • Content Domains

    Content domains are the sets of organized categories characterizing subject matter under which clinical knowledge may be represented in specifications for assessment instruments.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Continuing Dental Education (CDE)

    Continuing Dental Education (CDE) consists of educational activities designed to review existing concepts and techniques; convey information beyond the basic dental assisting education and training; and update knowledge on advances in scientific, clinical, and nonclinical practice-related subject matter, including evidence-based dentistry. The objective is to improve the clinical knowledge of the individual to provide the highest quality of service to the public and the profession. All CDE should strengthen the habits of critical inquiry and balanced judgment that are associated with the truly professional and scientific person and should make it possible for new knowledge, as it becomes available, to be incorporated into the practice of dental assisting.

  • CPFDA

    CPFDA is the acronym for Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant. The CPFDA exam is one of DANB's national certification exams.

  • CRFDA

    CRFDA is the acronym for Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant. The CRFDA exam is one of DANB's national certification exams.

  • Credentialing

    Credentialing is the umbrella term that includes the concepts of accreditation, licensure, registration and professional certification. Credentialing can establish criteria for fairness, quality, competence and/or safety for professional services provided by authorized individuals, for products or educational endeavors. Credentialing is the process by which an entity, authorized and qualified to do so, grants formal recognition to, or records the recognition status of individuals, organizations, institutions, programs, processes, services or products that meet predetermined and standardized criteria.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts, 2005.

  • Credentials

    Anything that provides the basis for confidence (accreditation, licensure, registration, professional certification) in an individual's competency or proficiency in a subject area or profession.

  • Curriculum-Based Certificate

    A curriculum-based certificate is issued after an individual completes a course or series of courses and passes an assessment instrument. The content of the assessment is limited to the course content and, therefore, may not be completely representative of professional practice (and, consequently, it is not as defensible to use this or the knowledge-based type of certificate for regulatory purposes as compared to a professional certification).

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Cut Score

    A cut score is a specific score on an assessment instrument or instruments at or above which passing decisions are made and below which failing decisions are made.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Discipline

    Discipline is a formal, published process for the enforcement of standards governing the professional behavior (i.e., ethics) of certificants.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Eligibility Requirements

    Eligibility requirements are published criteria, often benchmarks for education, training and experience, with which applicants must demonstrate compliance in order to qualify for certification.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Emeritus

    A person with Emeritus status is one who is retired from or, for medical reasons, no longer employed in a dental office or dental assisting position but who is permitted to retain, as an honorary title, the rank or credential last held.

  • Expanded Functions

    The definition of expanded functions varies significantly by state. State rules and regulations usually require dental assistants to obtain supplementary education, permits, registration or credentialing before performing expanded functions.

  • Governing Committee

    A governing committee is a group of individuals appointed or elected to formulate and implement policy related to certification program operation. The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) uses this term to denote those committees that are given complete authority over all essential certification decisions.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Grandfathering

    Grandfathering is the process by which individuals are granted certification without being required to meet a formal examination requirement. This process is frequently invoked when a certification program is initiated, as a way of recognizing the experience and expertise of long-term experts, and/or to allow grandfathered individuals to develop the initial form(s) of the certification examination. Individuals initially certified through grandfathering may, in the future, be required to pass a form of the certification examination they did not participate in developing in order to maintain certification.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • High-Stakes Exam

    A high-stakes exam is one in which the outcome has significant consequences for individuals. This includes tests required to graduate from high school, college and graduate school admissions tests, and credentialing (licensure, registration and certification) examinations.

    Therefore, any exams used to meet state licensure or registration requirements are considered "high stakes," because passing such exams allows individuals to perform professional duties as prescribed by state or federal regulatory bodies.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts, 2005.

  • Incorporation Status

    Incorporation status is legal recognition granted by states to organizations and determines IRS classification as for-profit or nonprofit.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Infection Control (ICE) Exam

    ICE is the acronym for DANB's Infection Control exam. ICE is a stand-alone exam and a component exam of the CDA and COA certification exams.

  • Institute for Credentialing Excellence

    The Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE), formerly NOCA, is a nonprofit professional membership association that provides education, networking and other resources for organizations and individuals who work in and serve the credentialing industry. ICE's accrediting body, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), evaluates certification organizations for compliance with the NCCA Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs. ICE is accredited by the American National Standards Institute as a Standards Developer.

  • Item

    Item is a general term referring to problems and/or questions that appear in assessment instruments and to which candidates must respond. Also referred to as "question."

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Item Bank

    An item bank is the system by which test items are maintained, stored and classified to facilitate item review, item development and examination assembly.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Item Type or Format

    Item type or format is the structure of a problem or question in an assessment instrument (i.e., multiple choice, open-ended).

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Job/Practice Analysis/Role Delineation Study

    Any of several methods, used singly or in combination, to identity the performance domains, associated tasks and clinical knowledge relating to the purpose of the credential and to provide the basis for validation.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Knowledge-Based Certificate

    A knowledge-based certificate recognizes a relatively narrow scope of specialized knowledge used in performing duties or tasks required by a certain profession or occupation. This certificate is issued after the individual passes an assessment instrument.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Licensure

    Licensure is the mandatory process by which a governmental agency grants time-limited permission to an individual to engage in a given occupation after verifying that he/she has met predetermined and standardized criteria, and offers title protection for those who meet the criteria.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Membership Association

    A professional membership or trade association is usually a nonprofit organization working for the advancement of a particular profession. DANB is not a membership organization. DANB is the nationally recognized certification organization for dental assistants. In 1980, DANB separated from its parent, the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA). Although no longer directly related, DANB maintains an excellent relationship with the ADAA, other membership organizations and state dental boards.

  • NCCA

    NCCA is the acronym for the National Commission for Certifying Agencies. The NCCA is the accrediting body for the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE).

  • NELDA

    NELDA is the acronym for National Entry Level Dental Assistant™. The NELDA exam is one of DANB's national certification exams.

  • Passing Score

    A passing score is a specific score on an assessment instrument or instruments at or above which passing decisions are made and below which failing decisions are made. Also referred to as "cut score."

  • PDEP

    PDEP is the acronym for Professional Development Examination Program. PDEP is a DANB take-home exam that allows current DANB certificants to earn 12 CDE credits.

  • Performance Domains

    Performance domains are the set of organized categories characterizing a role or job under which tasks and associated clinical knowledge may be represented in the job/practice analysis.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Psychometrician

    A psychometrician is a practitioner of psychometrics: an individual who normally holds a doctoral degree in measurement or a discipline of psychology (such as educational or industrial/organizational psychology) who can understand, apply and describe the science and technology of mental measurement.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts, 2005.

  • Psychometrics

    The science and technology of mental measurement, including psychology, behavioral science, education, statistics and information technology.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts, 2005.

  • Public Member

    A public member is a representative of the consumers of services provided by a defined certificant population, serving as a voting member on the governing body of a certification program.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Publish

    To publish is to make information available in hard copy, electronic or web-based formats and easily accessible and available on request. The degree of accessibility may be a function of the level of confidentiality of the information.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Recertification

    Recertification is the requirements and procedures established as part of a certification program that certificants must meet in order to ensure continuing competence and renew their certification.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Registration

    1. The process by which a governmental agency grants a time-limited status on a registry, determined by specified knowledge-based requirements (e.g., experience, education, examinations), thereby authorizing those individuals to practice, similar to licensure. Its purpose is to maintain a continuous record of past and current occupational status of that individual, and to provide title protection.

    2. A listing of practitioners maintained by a governmental entity, without educational, experiential or competency-based requirements, e.g., maintaining a list of practitioners on a state "registry."

    3. A professional designation defined by a governmental entity in professional regulations or rules. However, the governmental regulatory body does not itself maintain a listing or registry of those who purport to meet registration requirements. Verification and authentication of such individuals are left to the employer of the individual claiming to be registered.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • RHS

    RHS is the acronym for DANB's Radiation Health and Safety exam. The RHS is a stand-alone exam and a component of the CDA certification exam.

  • Self-Assessment

    Self-assessment is a process by which an assessment instrument is self-administered for the specific purpose of providing performance feedback rather than a pass/fail decision.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Stakeholders

    Stakeholders are the various groups with an interest in the quality, governance and operation of a certification program, such as the public, certificants, candidates, employers, customers, clients and third-party payers.

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

  • Standard

    A standard is an accreditation requirement that must be met by a certification program submitting an application to the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA).

  • Task Analysis

    An analysis of the duties commonly performed in actual dental assisting practice.

  • Validity

    Validity is the degree to which accumulated evidence supports specific interpretations of all components of a certification program (e.g., education, experience and assessment instruments).

    Institute for Credentialing Excellence’s Basic Guide to Credentialing Terminology, 2006.

Looking for definitions related to dental assisting practice?

The DALE Foundation, the official DANB affiliate, offers an online Glossary of Dental Terms.

The DALE Foundation