Dental Assistant

If you are looking for a career that is flexible, rewarding, and exciting, you may want to consider becoming a dental assistant.

Dental assistants perform a variety of duties in the dental office as well as other health care facilities.

Education & Training

Explore online training programs offered in conjuction with local trade schools and universities.

Online Programs

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How Long Does it Take?

The length of a dental assistant training program depends on the program you choose; however, you can expect to spend anywhere between 700 and 1,200 hours in the classroom learning about dental procedures such as filling teeth or removing wisdom teeth.

How Much Does it Cost?

Dental assistant training programs have a wide range of lengths and costs, but most are relatively short and affordable.

On average, tuition at private colleges costs between $2,500 and $7,000 per year, while public schools charge between $1,000 and $6,000 per year depending on where you live and whether you attend part-time or full-time programs.

What Do You Study?

Dental assistant training programs are designed to teach you the skills you need to work in a dental office. The courses you take will vary depending on the program and where it’s located, but they will often include lessons on:

  • Dental anatomy
  • Dental physiology
  • Anatomy of the mouth
  • The nervous system
  • Oral pathology
  • Caries (tooth decay) diagnosis and treatment
  • Treatment planning and implementation
  • Preventive dentistry
  • Dental radiography

Benefits of the Course

A dental assistant course is a structured educational program with a curriculum that covers topics such as dental anatomy, radiography, infection control, and chair-side assisting. The courses often include hands-on clinical training to ensure students acquire practical experience.


You’ll get hands-on training. As a dental assistant student, you’ll learn how to do everything from taking x-rays to cleaning teeth and administering anesthesia. You’ll also learn how to take impressions for dentures and crowns and make temporary crowns for patients who need them during treatment but don’t have time for permanent ones.

Skills You Can Learn

Dental assistant training programs are designed to prepare students for the Dental Assistant National Board (DANB) exam. The course content is usually determined by individual states, but the curriculum may include:

Introduction to dental assisting

This course covers topics such as dental office management and basic anatomy and physiology.

Basic clinical skills

Students learn about filling cavities, taking X-rays, and assisting during minor procedures like root canals, crowns, and fillings.

Advanced clinical skills

Students gain experience with more complex procedures like placing temporary crowns and administering anesthesia.

The coursework may also include instruction in infection control techniques and other safety measures that protect patients from disease transmission in the dental office setting.

Earn While You Learn

You’ll get paid while you learn. Many schools offer financial aid in the form of grants or scholarships that don’t have to be repaid — so long as you keep your grades up! Some programs even offer paid internships so you can get actual experience in your field before graduation.

Help Finding a Job

You’ll get job placement assistance after graduation. Many programs help their students find jobs by hosting job fairs and networking events where employers come directly to campus looking for new hires. Some even provide career counseling services — like resume writing tips — before graduation so graduates are ready to start their careers right away after graduation day.

Personal Development

Another benefit is that it can help you develop strong interpersonal skills by interacting with patients daily. This is important because this type of job requires excellent customer service skills as well as communication skills so that patients feel comfortable with their treatment plan and understand what they need to do during their appointments.


How Much Can You Make Starting Out?

The pay for dental assistant jobs ranges from $27-55k per year, depending on location, the type of practice, and a person’s experience. The average salary for this role is around $39k.

Below are some average salaries and hourly wages for each state.

State Hourly Annual
Alabama $18.00 $37,440.00
Alaska $25.49 $53,020.00
Arizona $22.61 $47,030.00
Arkansas $19.44 $40,440.00
California $25.23 $52,470.00
Colorado $24.49 $50,940.00
Connecticut $23.84 $49,590.00
Delaware $23.58 $49,040.00
District of Columbia $26.49 $55,100.00
Florida $22.23 $46,240.00
Georgia $21.02 $43,710.00
Guam $16.96 $35,270.00
Hawaii $20.65 $42,960.00
Idaho $19.33 $40,200.00
Illinois $20.39 $42,420.00
Indiana $22.72 $47,250.00
Iowa $23.62 $49,140.00
Kansas $19.78 $41,140.00
Kentucky $19.76 $41,090.00
Louisiana $18.41 $38,290.00
Maine $23.44 $48,760.00
Maryland $24.06 $50,040.00
Massachusetts $27.31 $56,810.00
Michigan $21.73 $45,210.00
Minnesota $30.17 $62,760.00
Mississippi $18.08 $37,610.00
Missouri $21.37 $44,450.00
Montana $20.81 $43,280.00
Nebraska $21.12 $43,930.00
Nevada $22.21 $46,200.00
New Hampshire $26.06 $54,190.00
New Jersey $22.57 $46,950.00
New Mexico $19.49 $40,530.00
New York $23.22 $48,290.00
North Carolina $23.00 $47,840.00
North Dakota $25.96 $54,010.00
Ohio $23.82 $49,550.00
Oklahoma $19.94 $41,470.00
Oregon $26.90 $55,960.00
Pennsylvania $22.97 $47,770.00
Puerto Rico $11.12 $23,120.00
Rhode Island $25.01 $52,030.00
South Carolina $22.57 $46,940.00
South Dakota $22.89 $47,620.00
Tennessee $21.11 $43,910.00
Texas $20.04 $41,690.00
Utah $18.92 $39,350.00
Vermont $25.90 $53,860.00
Virgin Islands $17.67 $36,750.00
Virginia $22.90 $47,630.00
Washington $26.06 $54,190.00
West Virginia $19.18 $39,890.00
Wisconsin $21.97 $45,700.00
Wyoming $22.87 $47,560.00

Occupation: Dental Assistants(SOC Code319091)

Most are full time and work in dentists’ offices. Government employees tend to earn the most, along with those in major metropolitan areas.

Although options vary from one practice to another, employees with dental assistant jobs receive benefits in addition to their pay.

Some typical offerings include:

  • Medical coverage
  • Dental and vision insurance
  • Sick pay
  • Vacation time
  • Retirement plans
  • Free uniforms or an allowance

License & Certification

Dental assistants are licensed by state regulatory boards that require passing written examinations, written clinical examinations, and hands-on clinical exams before issuing licenses or certifications. To obtain this license or certification, applicants must meet certain requirements set forth by each state board.

For example, some states require applicants to have graduated from an accredited program while others allow applicants who have graduated from non-accredited programs to take an examination after completing additional education or work experience requirements. Some states also require continuing education for license renewal every two years.

For more detailed information, visit the websites of the American Dental Association (ADA) and the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination (NBDE).

Career Overview

Where Do They Work?

  • Local health departments
  • General and family dentists’ offices
  • Periodontal practices
  • Retail chains
  • Hospitals

What Are the Requirements for Dental Assistant Jobs?

In many states, workers must attend a college or trade school and earn either a certificate or an associate’s degree. After graduation, students need to pass a licensing exam in order to start work. Other areas allow employees to train on-the-job and have no formal requirements.

Dental assistant schools receive accreditation through a special commission that is part of the American Dental Association. Most courses are a mixture of lecture and lab and may include supervised practice.

Employers who expect prospects to have a dental assistant degree may require additional certifications as well. Some want staff members to know CPR, understand infection control standards, or know how to operate radiology equipment.

What Personal Skills Do You Need?

  • Manual dexterity
  • Organizational skills
  • Ability to listen and follow directions
  • Good reading comprehension
  • Attention to detail
  • Near vision
  • Critical thinking
  • Comfort with interpersonal communication

What is the Work Environment Like?

While most dental assistants work during normal business hours, some offices stay open longer to accommodate customers with busy schedules. Employees at these locations may have evening or weekend shifts as a result. Those with flexible availability are often more appealing to managers during the hiring process.

To prevent injury and the spread of disease, dental assistants wear personal protective equipment during every procedure. For their safety and that of the clients, these items must be in stock, working properly, and available at all times. Some examples include glasses to shield eyes, surgical masks, gloves, and aprons or collars used when taking x-rays.

Job Description

What Do They Do?

People with dental assistant jobs work closely with hygienists and dentists to care for patients’ mouths. They help with providing treatments and cleaning up between visits. Some also educate clients about the importance of maintaining good habits to improve their oral health.

At the start of their careers, prospects attend dental assistant schools to learn more about the field. They study the name and purpose of each instrument, terminology, and important protocols used in most practices. Many programs also include hands-on training in a clinical setting.

High school students interested in dental assistant careers should take classes focused on science. Good choices include biology, anatomy, and chemistry courses. This will be helpful as they continue their education.

Job Duties

Before each appointment, a dental assistant prepares for the procedure by gathering necessary equipment. Associates lead clients to the treatment area, take their vital signs, and obtain information about their medical history. If state regulations allow, they may do lab work like taking impressions, polishing teeth, or applying sealants.

As part of a team, dental assistants help other staff members with their tasks as well. They might answer phones, schedule appointments, or order supplies for receptionists. Some may also update records or handle billing and insurance claims on occasion.A dental assistant’s daily responsibilities also include:

  • Handing instruments to dentists during treatment
  • Using water to rinse and suction to dry patients’ mouths
  • Sterilizing equipment and instruments
  • Taking x-rays
  • Teaching patients about oral hygiene or postoperative care

What Else Can Dental Assistants Do?

The knowledge that dental assistants possess is also useful in other positions within the field. With additional schooling or on-the-job training, associates could also pursue opportunities as lab technicians or hygienists.

Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist

Staff members in a lab take impressions of patients’ teeth to use as molds. These help workers to create custom appliances like mouth guards, implants, and bridges. Once completed, dental technicians ensure these fit properly inside the mouth. They also make repairs when necessary. Employees in this role only need a high school diploma and earn about $37k on average.

Dental hygienists’ salaries are much higher, usually around $75k per year, but they must have an associate’s degree. They provide preventative care, clean and polish teeth, and check for signs of disease. Some also assist with more complicated procedures under supervision.

Those with dental assistant degrees may also choose to become medical assistants. These workers help with office duties and clinical tasks in settings like hospitals, doctor’s offices, and other facilities. Many trade schools and colleges offer programs to help prospects meet certification requirements for this career, where earnings average around $34k per year.

Dental Assistant FAQs

Does a Dental Assistant Require a College Degree?

No, becoming a dental assistant does not require a college degree. Most dental assistants enter the profession by completing a dental assisting program from a trade school. Though some may offer an associate degree, these programs often yield a certificate or diploma.

The curriculum should include both classroom instruction and hands-on clinical training, preparing individuals for the practical aspects of the job. While a college degree is not mandatory, completing a dental assisting program and obtaining relevant certifications are essential to enter and excel in dental assisting.

Is it a Good Career? Why Are They in Demand?

Yes, a career as a dental assistant is a promising pathway to success because dental assistants play a vital role in dental practices: they support dentists in patient care and administrative tasks and ensure the smooth operation of dental offices.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a positive outlook for dental assisting, citing the increasing need for preventive dental services and the expanding aging population as factors contributing to job growth in the field. This situation makes dental assisting an attractive and stable career option.

Is Dental Assistant School Hard?

If by “hard,” you mean rigorous. Dental assistant programs typically combine classroom instruction with hands-on clinical training, covering dental procedures, radiography, and office administration. While the coursework is manageable, the hands-on aspect requires attention to detail and the development of practical skills.

Time management and the ability to handle both administrative and clinical responsibilities are essential. Many find the program challenging yet rewarding, as it prepares individuals for a fulfilling career in dental assisting.

Where Do You Study Dental Assisting?

Various educational institutions offer dental assisting programs, including trade schools, vocational schools, and specialized dental assistant schools. These programs typically provide comprehensive training through classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience.

Community colleges often offer associate degree programs in dental assisting, while vocational and dental assistant schools may provide certificate or diploma programs. Prospective dental assistants can choose the type of program that aligns with their educational goals and career aspirations.

Accredited programs ensure that students receive quality education and are well-prepared for the practical aspects of the dental assistant role upon completion of their studies.

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Get information on Dental Assistant programs by entering your zip code and request enrollment information.

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Where Do Dental Assistants Make the Most Money?

Dental assistants in metropolitan areas or regions with a higher cost of living tend to have higher salaries. For example, cities or states with a robust dental industry and greater demand for healthcare services may offer more competitive wages. Working in specialty dental practices or major healthcare facilities usually increases earning potential. Remember, the salary of dental assistants can vary based on factors such as location, experience, and the demand for dental services in a particular area.

Who Was the First Woman to Become a Dental Assistant?

The first recorded female dental assistant was Malvina Cueria, who worked as an assistant to Dr. Edmund Kells in the late 19th century. Dr. Kells, a pioneering dentist, acknowledged Cueria’s contributions in his writings, making her one of the earliest known female dental assistants in the history of dentistry.

What is Dental Assistant Registration?

Dental assistant registration refers to formally enrolling or registering with relevant dental boards or regulatory bodies in their jurisdiction. This registration often involves meeting specific education and training requirements, passing examinations, or fulfilling other criteria set by the regulatory authority.

Registered dental assistants may receive certification or licensure, depending on local regulations, allowing them to practice legally within the defined scope of their profession. This process ensures dental assistants meet established standards and adhere to professional guidelines, promoting competency and quality care in dental practices.

Local Guides

Dental Assistant vs Dental Hygienist

Becoming a Dental Assistant in CA

Becoming a Dental Assistant in GA

Becoming a Dental Assistant in FL

Becoming a Dental Assistant in IL

Becoming a Dental Assistant in NY

Becoming a Dental Assistant in TX

Day in the Life of a Dental Assistant

An interview with Bridgett, who works in a dental office and earned the Dental Assistant Diploma from the Texas School of Business North Campus.

Q: Why did you decide to get this type of training?
A: I have always been interested in dentistry. I know it is kind of weird, but I have always been a little obsessed with my teeth and with other peoples’ teeth. At the same time, I really didn’t want to commit 8 years of my life to going to dental school! Becoming a dental assistant seemed like a good compromise.

Q: What is your current career?
A: I work as a dental assistant at a local dentist’s office. He actually has two different offices, so I sometimes bounce back and forth between the offices. I don’t mind, though, because I have come to know the patients at both places and I really enjoy getting to know them.

Q: How did your training help you get into this career?
A: There is no way I would have been able to get into the business if it hadn’t been for completing the program. I mean, I suppose it is possible I could have got a job doing the clerical work at a dentist office, but I wouldn’t have been able to work directly with the patients like I do if I hadn’t completed the program.

Q: How would things be different for you if you hadn’t received this training?
A: I would be stuck behind a desk answering phones and making appointments! Now, I get to work side by side with the dentist and actually get to work inside the mouths of our patients. That is a whole lot more fun to me and I earn more money than I would if I was just doing secretarial work.

Q: Were you happy with the training that you received?
A: Yes. I feel like the program really helped prepare me for my job.

Q: What was your favorite class?
A: I really liked the classes about handling dental emergencies. I have always been interested in knowing more about how broken teeth are repaired and things like that. Although I am not exactly qualified to perform all of the emergency procedures that a dentist can do, I do have a very good understanding of how it works now.

Q: What class do you think was the most useful?
A: For my current job, I think the classes about how to identify cavities and the different types of teeth was the most useful because that is what I spend a lot of my time doing. Learning how to properly handle dental instruments and how to properly assist the dentist has also been very helpful. After all, the more I can please the boss, the more I can be sure to have a job!

Q: How long did it take you to complete the program?
A: About two years.

Q: How much did it cost for you to complete the program?
A: Thanks to the financial aid and grants I received, it only cost me about $1,500 to complete the program.

Q: Did you go to school on a full-time or part-time basis?
A: I attend full-time while working in a dentist office on a part-time basis. Thankfully, the North Campus has flexible scheduling, so it wasn’t too difficult to work my classes around my schedule. Besides, since I was already working in a dentist’s office, I was able to start applying the things I learned right away and I was able to get a little extra help from the boss with understanding the material.

Q: Would you recommend this school to someone else? Why or why not?
A: Yes. I found the program to be very useful and the teachers were very knowledgeable. I also liked that the school was so flexible with its scheduling. That really made it easier to keep working while going to school.

Q: If you could do it all over again, would you?
A: Yes. I have two kids at home, so trying to juggle work, school and family was challenging at times. Still, it was worth it and it has all paid off in the end. I am making more money and am doing something that I really enjoy doing.

Q: What was the most difficult part of the program for you?
A: I think juggling my personal responsibilities while going to school was the hardest part for me.

Q: About how many other students were in your classes?
A: I’m not sure. 15 or maybe 20.