Whether you are already in the dental field or ready for a career change, you may be curious about becoming a certified dental assistant.

By earning a certified dental assistant (CDA) credential, you open the door to new career opportunities in multiple ways, including earning more. Plus, you’ll be joining more than 37,000 certified individuals who take the dental assisting profession seriously.

Since dental assisting is a fast-growing field, there are plenty of education options available online and on traditional campuses to help individuals learn how to be a dental assistant.

If sharing preventive dental care and good oral health advice daily sounds good to you, read on.

What Training Do I Need to Become a Certified Dental Assistant?

There are a few different education options for becoming a certified dental assistant. Programs are available to fit virtually any schedule that includes part-time, full-time, and online options.

Dental assisting programs are available at:

  • Dental schools
  • Universities
  • Community colleges
  • Tech schools
  • Vocational schools


Program length depends on where you take courses and how quickly you’d like to get to work as a dental assistant. Most dental assisting programs take between five months to 1 year to finish. Upon completion, you’ll have a license or certificate, depending on your state.

Dental Assisting Education and Certification

Each state has its regulations when it comes to dental assisting. Some require formal training, while others allow on-the-job training. Getting certified helps build a solid knowledge base while helping you gain earning power and career advancement opportunities.

Once you complete a CODA-accredited program, you’re eligible to take the CDA exam through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Each exam is state-specific.

Five components must be completed for the CDA certificate:

  • Radiation and health safety exam
  • Infection control exam
  • General chairside exam
  • CPR certification
  • 3500 hours of approved work experience


Exams are completed on computers at Pearson VUE test centers across the U.S. After you apply for a DANB exam, you receive a test admission notice with details on how to schedule your exam.

Upon successful completion, you’ll receive a certificate of knowledge-based competency to apply for jobs as a certified dental assistant. This allows you to apply to positions for dental offices across your state, including in the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Why Should I Become a Certified Dental Assistant?

Aside from becoming an expert in your field, earning a DANB Certified Dental Assisting certificate proves your competency as a dental assistant. When you become certified, you increase your chances of earning more, along with boosting the confidence in your knowledge in the field.

According to the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) Salary Survey:

  • Dental Assistants with certifications are more appealing applicants for jobs
  • Dental assistants earn almost $2 more per hour than non-certified dental assistants
  • CDA certificants get extra benefits including free dental care, paid holidays and vacation, 401(k) or pension plans, and more
  • Certified dental assistants reported higher career satisfaction
  • 99% planned to renew their certifications


You also may be required to become certified, depending on your state regulations.

Where to Find Dental Assisting Programs

Now that you know the certification details, it’s time to get searching for the best program fit for your lifestyle.

  • Online career training is the most convenient way if you’ve got a busy schedule and need flexibility. Most online dental assisting schools offer a mix of classroom experience along with online work to ensure you are well-prepared for the CDA exam.
  • Traditional schools like colleges or universities usually require you to attend classes on campus for a pre-set schedule that may not be as flexible. The DANB website has a full listing of accredited schools for consideration.

Build Your Career

By starting with a CDA, you can also build upon your education later down the road. Once you’ve settled into your new dental assisting career, continuing education is available for career advancement.

DANB offers four other national certifications:

  • National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA®)
  • Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA®)
  • Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA®)
  • Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA®)

Certification Means Industry Recognition

When you become a certified dental assistant, it’s proof to potential employers and future patients that you take your job seriously. By engaging in study material and passing exams, you cement everyday dental knowledge that will keep you a step ahead of other applicants. Certified dental assistants take pride in taking patient care to the next level in the dental industry.

If you have a career change in mind, a CDA can have you working in a dental office in as little as 20 weeks. When you’re certified, you serve as a trusted member of a dental team dedicated to sharing best oral health practices with patients.

Interested in learning more about how to become a dental assistant? Get your questions answered by an education consultant today!

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Written by MedCerts Team
Published on May 1, 2019