How to pick a dental assistant school

Four students looking at camera

When it comes to dental assisting, most dental assistants — and dentists, dental hygienists and dental office managers — agree that education is vital in order to be a valuable member of the dental team.

While it’s not required to graduate from a formal dental assistant education program before entering the profession, many dental assistants do take that route.

Identifying your chosen field of study is a big decision, but it’s only step one on your educational journey. What’s next is finding the right dental assistant school for you. There are many dental assisting programs out there. Finding the right one for you can be challenging, with so many options available. There are many factors to consider, and of course cost is always a concern. To help you sort through all the choices, we’ve compiled some top tips and useful resources to help you narrow down your decision. Read on!

Know your state’s dental assisting requirements

Learning your state’s dental assisting requirements is the first step in choosing the right educational path for reaching your dental assisting career goals. Dental assisting requirements vary from state to state, so knowing what is required and which education programs are recognized in your state is critical.

For most states, no education or training is required to work as an entry-level dental assistant. However, many states have education, training or exam requirements that dental assistants must meet in order to perform certain duties or earn state credentials.

Research the types of dental assistant schools

After researching your state’s requirements, the next step is to explore the types of dental assisting education programs that exist. There are a few types of dental assistant schools and programs out there. Learn more about these different programs below.

CODA-accredited dental assisting programs

Some dental assisting programs are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). These programs are considered the “gold standard” for dental assisting education because they are of high quality. There are currently 255 CODA-accredited dental assisting programs in the country. CODA-accredited dental assisting programs are often recognized or required by state dental boards. Additionally, graduating from a CODA-accredited dental assisting program is one of the ways to be eligible to earn DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification.

View the list of CODA-accredited programs.

State-approved dental assisting programs

Many states recognize CODA-accredited dental assisting programs, and some states also recognize state dental board-approved dental assisting programs and courses as a way to meet dental assisting requirements. To find out if your state approves other dental assisting programs or courses, look up your state dental assisting requirements.

Some state dental boards publish a list of state-approved courses and programs. To see if your state has a list like this, you can visit your state dental board website.

DANB-accepted dental assisting programs for NELDA certification

If you are new to dental assisting, you may be interested in earning DANB’s National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA) certification. Dental assistants who don’t have the education or work experience to earn CDA certification may be eligible to earn DANB’s NELDA certification. If you’re interested, consider looking into one of the DANB-accepted programs.

View the list of DANB-accepted dental assisting programs for NELDA certification.

Other dental assisting programs

If you can, it is usually best to attend a CODA-accredited program, a program that is approved by a state regulatory agency such as a dental board or state department of environmental regulation, or a program that DANB recognizes or requires for earning certification.

If you cannot attend one of the programs listed above, it is a good idea to make sure the school in which the dental assisting program resides is accredited by a federal government-recognized accrediting agency. If you want to look up if a dental assisting school is accredited, the U.S. Department of Education has a handy look-up tool online.

Look up a dental assisting school.

Be proud of your lifelong learning

There are many ways to expand your knowledge — whether it is through a formal dental assisting education program, or by attending a hands-on course, or by completing an online course like the ones offered through the DALE Foundation, the official DANB affiliate. Whatever route you choose, DANB and the DALE Foundation commend you for your commitment to lifelong learning!

Did you attend a dental assisting program? Have a question about dental assisting?

Contact us with questions or share your story!