It’s a good time to be a dental assistant! Dental assisting is a fast-growing profession, and there are many jobs available in a variety of settings. Many dental practices are actively looking to hire dental assistants, so there are a lot of opportunities. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are more than 56,000 job openings for dental assistants each year. Dental assistants are in demand!
If you’re new to dental assisting or considering becoming a dental assistant, you may be wondering how to get started. Do you have to go to a dental assistant school? Can you be trained on the job? What are you allowed to do as a dental assistant? We answer all those questions, and more!
How can I become a dental assistant?
In most states, you can work as an entry-level dental assistant with no formal education or training. However, to take dental x-rays or perform more advanced duties, such as expanded functions, you will likely need formal training or education or to pass an exam. Each state has its own requirements and levels for dental assistants, so it can be tricky to figure out what you need to do to enter this career.
Where can I find the dental assisting requirements in my state?
Dental assisting requirements and levels vary from state to state. Your job title, education and exam requirements — and even what functions you’re allowed to perform — can change depending on the state where you work. DANB has compiled all of this information in its search-by-state map, so you can view the requirements for every state.
What career opportunities are available for dental assistants?
Every state determines what types of duties dental assistants are allowed to do and the qualifications to do them. Across the country, there are more than 50 different designations for dental assistants! Most states, however, have two or three different designations or levels for dental assistants and allow assistants to perform more advanced duties as they earn more education and credentials.
For example, some states have an Expanded Functions Dental Assistant (EFDA) level, while other states have a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) level. If your state doesn’t offer these credentials, they might have a different name for an advanced dental assistant or allow dental assistants to earn a certificate or permit to do certain functions. Looking up your state’s requirements is the best way to understand your career options.
What if I plan to move to a new state?
If you’re already working as a dental assistant and plan to move to a new state, you’ll want to look up the dental assisting requirements in your new location. Depending on the state and your previous education and experience, you may need to take additional steps to get credentialed in your new state.
What if I don’t want to start over in a new state?
That is one of the biggest challenges as a dental assistant if you plan on moving. Since each state is different, you may find yourself not being able to work at the same level without more exams, education, or training. Although there is no hard-and-fast rule, there are a couple things you can do to make it easier to relocate:
Attend a CODA-accredited program
If you can, attending a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)-accredited program is a good idea, since many states recognize or require these programs. DANB’s website includes a searchable map where you can look up dental assisting programs near you. The search also displays the program’s approvals or accreditation, so you can select the right one for you.
Earn DANB certification
DANB exams and certifications are recognized or required by 38 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Because DANB exams are widely recognized, holding DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification or another DANB certification can make it easier to meet dental assisting requirements if you ever have to move and work in a new state.
Where can I learn more?
DANB offers additional resources if you’d like to learn more about dental assisting requirements across the country, including State of the States reports and state publications.