In the multifaceted world of dentistry, dental assistants provide valuable support to dentists and dental hygienists through a blend of clinical and administrative responsibilities. Dedicated to ensuring the comfort and safety of patients in both dental offices and other healthcare settings, dental assistants must be able to balance technical skills and interpersonal abilities in their role.

Considering a dental assisting career? We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help you understand the ins and outs of becoming a dental assistant, including job duties, school requirements, salary, and more. Read on to see if dental assisting is the right career for you, and how the College of Health Care Professions can help you get started on your dental assisting career path today.

In This Article:

What Is a Dental Assistant?

When you go to the dentist for a cleaning or other kinds of dental work, dental assistants are there to make sure you’re comfortable and prepared for your appointment. These assistants are a crucial part of their teams, performing a wide range of tasks that help dental visits go smoothly. During your time at the dentist, you may interact with a dental assistant performing tasks that include scheduling your follow-up appointments to directly assisting your provider during cleanings and procedures.

Types of Dental Assistants

There are several different types of dental assistant careers available, making it possible to find the niche that suits your interests. Typically, dental assistant types are categorized by certifications, education, and any additional specialization the individual obtains. For example, unregistered or entry-level dental assistants perform basic duties and responsibilities, such as preparing patients for dental care and sterilizing instruments. Alternatively, an aspiring dental assistant may choose to become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), Registered Dental Assistant (RDA), or an Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) to perform more clinical and technical tasks.

Dental Assistant Job Description Overview

Learning about the specific job duties and responsibilities dental assistants handle, as well as where they work and how they can advance their careers, is essential to helping you understand if this career is right for you. Let’s explore the core competencies and tasks of a dental assistant and general dental assistant work environments to learn more. 

Dental Assistant Duties & Skills 

So, what does a dental assistant do? The exact job duties and responsibilities for dental assistants vary depending on where they work and what kind of training they have. In general, dental assistants work alongside dentists and dental hygienists throughout the day and are often full-time employees. No matter where a dental assistant is working or what their certification level is, the role of a dental assistant requires adaptability and the management of a variety of tasks. 

 Clinical Dental Assistant Duties

  • Preparing dental patients for cleanings or other dental care, such as taking medical histories and checking blood pressure and other vital signs

  • Making sure patients feel comfortable before any dental work is done

  • Cleaning and sterilizing dental instruments

  • Preparing materials and instruments for dental procedures and treatments

  • Assisting the dentist and/or hygienist chairside during dental cleanings and other procedures

  • Handing dental instruments to dentists while procedures or other treatments are being done

  • Exposing dental X-rays under the general supervision of a dentist

  • Handling lab tasks, such as preparing materials for dental crowns or taking tooth impressions, under the supervision of a dentist

Administrative Dental Assistant Duties

  • Assisting patients with payments and billing

  • Scheduling appointments, including follow-up appointments

  • Educating patients on oral care

  • Educating patients on health insurance and benefits

  • Maintaining patient records

  • Office administration

Dental assistants with specialized training and certification can perform additional tasks, such as taking X-rays, applying sealants, applying fluoride treatment, or administering topical anesthetics.

Where Do Dental Assistants Work? 

As would be expected, dental assistants mainly work in dental offices. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that dental offices employ 90% of dental assistants. A much smaller number of dental assistants work in other healthcare environments. Roughly 2% work in physicians’ offices, and another 2% work in government settings, according to BLS. Dental assistant hours depend on the location, with private offices and group practices often having the most standard hours. Some of the places dental assistants can work include the following:

  • Private Dental Offices. Some dental assistants work for private dental offices where they assist one or more dentists and dental hygienists with patient care and other day-to-day duties and responsibilities.

  • Group Dental Practices. Dental assistants can work at group dental practices with a larger number of dentists and dental hygienists. Their duties and responsibilities are generally the same as those who work for private dental offices.

  • Outpatient Centers for Dental Surgery. Dental assistants who specialize in oral surgery can work at outpatient centers for dental surgery. These dental assistants assist oral surgeons as needed, such as by preparing the surgical environment for patients.

  • Hospitals. Dental assistants can work at hospitals where they assist dentists who perform oral surgeries and other procedures. Hospital jobs for dental assistants might include more patient care and fewer administrative tasks.

  • Educational Institutions. Dental assistants interested in educating others can work in academic institutions where they can provide students with training. Others might educate students who are doing externships in dental offices. These dental assistants help students learn more about what to expect on the job.

  • Public Health Facilities. Some dental assistants work in public health where they visit underserved or low-income communities with dentists to provide dental care and education on oral health. In some cases, these assistants help dentists prepare presentations for schools, community centers, and other public health settings.


Dental Assistant Salary & Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for dental assistants from 2022 through 2032 is strong, and dental assistant jobs are expected to grow 7%, which is faster than the average rate for all jobs in the U.S. This amounts to roughly 55,100 dental assistant job openings each year on average. The growth in dental assistant jobs is expected for a few reasons, including an increasing awareness of the connection between overall health and oral health among the general public and a growing need for dental care among aging populations. Dental assistants are also expected to be in demand throughout the next decade as workers retire and need to be replaced.

How Much Do Dental Assistants Make?

The salary for dental assistants can vary based on many factors, such as where they work or how much experience they have. For the most up-to-date information on dental assistant salaries, it’s best to check with the Bureau of Labor Statistics for averages and estimates, and then consider additional factors such as location and certifications.

How to Become a Dental Assistant

If you’ve determined that dental assisting is the right career for you, you may be wondering two things: what are your next steps, and how long does it take to become a dental assistant? The path to becoming a dental assistant can vary, as school requirements for dental assisting roles are different in certain states. 

Some states do not have any educational requirements for dental assistants, while others limit the tasks dental assistants can perform without specific training or certification. In some states, dental assistants can learn the skills they need with on-the-job training rather than a formal education. If you’re planning to become a dental assistant, you should make sure you’re familiar with the requirements in the state in which you want to work. The timeline for becoming a dental assistant can also vary by the depth of education you decide to obtain and the programs you choose. For example, at The College of Health Care Professions (CHCP), it’s possible to obtain a dental assisting certificate in as few as 36 weeks.

Dental Assistant Certification and Continuing Education

There are multiple routes for certification in the field of dental assisting, as well as different types of certifications and specialties. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers certification for dental assistants, which can allow them to take on additional responsibilities. The certification requirements and allowable abilities at each level will vary by state, so it’s important to understand the regulations and requirements established in your location.  

The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) is also the primary resource for students looking to understand their state’s certification processes, requirements, and outcomes. For example, DANB’s page on Texas dental assistant requirements breaks down the certifications available, the requirements for each, and the responsibilities allowed at every level. 

However, dental assistants can take the DANB exam after two years of full-time employment with a dental office. It should be noted that some states require certification through DANB to work as a dental assistant. Below, we’ll explore two primary options for dental assistants: CDA and RDA.

What is a CDA in Dentistry?

A Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) has obtained certification after taking exams in radiation health and safety, general chairside assisting, and infection control offered by the Dental Assistant National Board (DANB) at the national level. The CDA is a credential recognized in most states of the U.S. You can learn more about DANB eligibility requirements by visiting their website.

Those desiring to become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) must pass three exams after graduating from a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) accredited dental assisting program, complete a certain number of hours of DANB-approved work experience, and complete an externship. At the College of Health Care Professions (CHCP), you will be eligible to take the certification test once you complete the Dental Assistant Program. This exam is the first step toward becoming a state-registered dental assistant.

Dental Assistant Career Growth

Dental assistants have the option to continue their education and expand their career opportunities. Some might choose to pursue additional certifications like the ones mentioned above, which expands the range of tasks they’ll be able to perform on the job. 

In other cases, dental assistants may decide to advance their careers rather than expand their duties and responsibilities. These assistants can earn an associate degree and complete a licensing exam to become a dental hygienist, which involves learning to handle dental cleanings and other dental care. Dental assistants can also earn a bachelor’s degree and dental school degree, then pass licensing exams to become a dentist.

Choose CHCP for Dental Assistant Training Programs

Regardless of which field of dental assisting you decide to pursue, establishing a comprehensive foundation of knowledge is the first step toward success. Online dental assisting programs and on-campus dental assistant programs can help students prepare for exam certifications toward becoming a dental assistant. During most dental assistant programs, students practice the skills needed to prepare them for their credential exams, along with any additional skills required to earn a diploma, certificate, or degree.

The College of Health Care Professions helps students prepare to take the Texas Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) exam. Once students pass the exam, they can complete an application through the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners (TSBDE) and receive their RDA license in their state. This additional credential may provide them with more opportunities as dental assistants.

We offer Dental Assistant Programs on campus in many major cities in Texas and Dental Assisting Programs online to help students learn the skills needed for this career. The campus-based programs are delivered in a blended format where students are on campus two days per week and perform the remainder of their work online. The online program includes both online work and in-person weekend lab classes.

If you’re ready to begin the journey toward becoming a dental assistant or if you’re exploring options for your education, please contact The College of Health Care Professions (CHCP) for more information.