With most Americans visiting the dentist at least once a year, there is a need for qualified support staff in the field. While people are often familiar with the work of hygienists, dental assistants also play a critical role in many clinics.
Dental assistants may sterilize instruments, help dentists during procedures and process x-rays. They are also often responsible for a variety of administrative tasks. Although they don't clean teeth or fill cavities, they are still a crucial part of providing quality care.
The American Dental Association notes these assistants greatly improve the efficiency of dentists and are valuable assets. What's more, 99 percent of surveyed dentists and dental office managers say an effective dental assistant contributes to practice productivity, according to a 2018 report from The DALE Foundation, which is affiliated with the Dental Assisting National Board.
For those looking to join the workforce quickly, dental assisting can be a good choice. Training for new workers typically involves earning either a short term certificate or diploma or a two-year associate degree. Nearly 250 dental assisting degree programs have been accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.
While dental assistants previously had to study entirely on-campus, there are now a handful of accredited online dental assisting programs. These typically combine online courses with some on-campus lab work. They may also require an in-person clinical experience.
Best Colleges for Dental Assisting Degree Programs 2019-20
With hundreds of accredited dental assisting programs available, you may wonder which to choose for your education. To find the best of the best, we used a methodology that looked at tuition, graduation rates, program size and support services, among other things.
Altierus Career College teaches practical skills that can lead to in-demand jobs. Unlike other schools that offer a wide variety of technical and academic programs, Altierus Career College focuses exclusively on healthcare, trades and technology. The Norcross campus, located near Atlanta, features newly renovated labs and technology that provide a modern learning environment.
Dental assisting programs at Altierus: Students can earn a dental assisting diploma from Altierus in just nine months. The school's all-inclusive tuition covers just about everything needed, including an iPad, textbooks, backpack, school scrubs and a typodont kit. Altierus offers a flexible learning schedule that combines online courses with hands-on instruction. Typically, students won't have to be on campus more than three days per week.
Established in 1967, Atlanta Technical College offers about 150 programs of study, including more than a dozen tuition-free career training options. A handful of programs are available fully online while others combine online and on-campus courses. Atlanta Technical College also has a strong track record of student success with the school noting it has a 98-percent job placement rating.
Dental assisting programs at ATC: There are two options for dental assisting students at ATC: a basic dental assisting certificate and a dental assisting diploma. The certificate can be earned in two semesters and covers topics such as dental anatomy and infection control. The diploma requires six months of study and includes a practicum. Graduates of the diploma program are eligible to sit for a national exam for dental assisting certification.
Catering to nontraditional students, Remington College operates a system of non-profit career colleges. In addition to on-campus classes, the college has a handful of online degree programs. Financial aid is available, and Remington College promises not to raise tuition for students who are continuously enrolled and on-track to complete their program. The North Houston Campus has been part of the college since 2004.
Dental assisting programs at Remington College: The dental assisting diploma program at Remington College can be completed in nine months. Students may split their time between the classroom, x-ray lab, computer lab and operative dental lab. Within three months, classroom learning is supplemented with hands-on practice in simulated chairside dental assisting procedures. Graduates are eligible to sit for the exam to become a Registered Dental Assistant.
Lake Area Technical Institute isn't just a great school for dental assisting degrees. It's also one of the nation's best community colleges in general, according to The Aspen Institute. The nonprofit group awarded the institute a 2017 Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence. Lake Area Technical Institute offers approximately 30 programs, including a dozen online degrees.
Dental assisting programs at LATI: Lake Area Tech has both a traditional and an online dental assisting program. The on-campus program can be completed by full-time students in 11 months for a diploma or 20 months for an associate degree. The dental assisting - certified e-degree is designed for part-time students. Its curriculum includes approximately 12 days of on-campus lab requirements and 300 hours of clinical experience.
Founded in 1985, Charter College is a private institution specializing in career training for growing fields such business, health care and technology. The school offers a blended learning experience that combines in-person instruction with online learning. Opened in 2010, the Vancouver, Washington campus features small class sizes and a convenient location. It also offers special resources to help military members continue or build a career.
Dental assisting programs at Charter College: It takes 10 months to earn a certificate in dental assisting from Charter College. The blended program offers year-round classes with multiple start dates. Students learn about infection control, chairside assisting procedures and front office procedures. The curriculum also includes a 180-hour externship. Graduates should be prepared to fill entry-level positions in various dental settings.
Georgia Northwestern Technical College is part of the Technical College System of Georgia. It works closely with community partners to develop training programs that meet the needs of local employers. Its more than 200 degrees, diplomas and certificates provide students with the option to study during the day, in the evening or online.
Dental assisting programs at GNTC: Students can begin the dental assisting diploma at GNTC in either the spring or fall. The 55-credit program covers topics such as dental anatomy, dental radiology and dental practice management. At least seven credits cover a dental practicum. Graduates leave GNTC with their diploma, a certificate in dental radiology, a certificate as an Expanded Duties Dental Assistant and the opportunity to become a Certified Dental Assistant.
Students can choose from more than 200 programs of study at Fox Valley Technical College. These include associate degrees, technical diplomas, certificates and apprenticeships. The school stands out, in part, for its strong job placement rate and high student satisfaction. Fox Valley Technical College says its graduate employment rate is 95 percent, and 98 percent of graduates approve of the education they received.
Dental assisting programs at FVTC: Dental assisting students at FVTC learn how to provide chairside assistance as well as perform laboratory procedures under the direction of a dentist. The program requires 33 credits and is intended for full-time students who can take classes during the day. Graduates earn a dental assisting technical diploma and are eligible for national certification.
Fortis operates a network of more than 40 campus locations across the country. It specializes in career training and education in fields such as healthcare, dental and skilled trades. Fortis Online allows students to earn a fully online associate degree in select majors. The Fortis Institute in Pensacola offers hands-on training in nursing, dental assisting and cosmetology, among other areas of study. Depending on the program, students may earn an associate degree or diploma.
Dental assisting programs at Fortis: The Fortis Institute in Pensacola teaches students both the interpersonal and technical skills needed to work successfully as a dental assistant. The school's dental assisting diploma program provides hands-on experience in small classes. Upon graduation, students should be ready to fill entry-level positions in a variety of dental practices and settings.
The nonprofit Remington College strives to make education accessible to nontraditional students. Many of its program can be completed online while others have flexible scheduling options. The Fort Worth campus has been offering programs since 1990 and has more than a dozen associate degrees and diplomas as well as a bachelor's degree program. The campus has a focus on community service and encourages student volunteerism.
Dental assisting programs at Remington College: You can earn a dental assisting diploma from Remington College-Fort Worth in eight months. The program includes an externship that provides students with real-world experience inside a dental office. In addition to their diploma, graduates leave the school with a dental assisting certification in CPR. They are also eligible to become Registered Dental Assistants in Texas.
Daymar College was founded in 1963 to prepare students for in-demand jobs. Today, it has campuses in three states as well as online. The Clarksville location has regularly been voted the best local college according to readers of the Clarksville Now news website. It offers a dozen career training programs in the fields of health care, business, technology and criminal justice.
Dental assisting programs at Daymar College: Daymar College says students will get a manageable schedule and small class sizes when they enroll in its dental assisting program. Approved by the Tennessee Board of Dentistry and sponsored by the Capital City Dental Society, the program teaches both chairside and laboratory procedures. Graduates should be ready to take the Registered Dental Assistant exam.
Dental Assisting Degrees and Careers
Unlike some degrees which can be used for a variety of occupations, dental assisting programs prepare students for a specific career path. Although dental assistants can work in the field after earning a certificate or diploma, some employers may prefer to hire those with an associate degree in dental assisting.
All dental assisting programs cover the same basics, regardless of whether they result in a certificate, technical diploma or associate degree. Courses commonly teach the following topics:
- Dental anatomy
- Medical terminology
- Dental practice management
- Clinical skills
- Dental radiography
Students usually receive practical training in both chairside and laboratory procedures. These prepare students for all aspects of the field from patient interactions to x-ray development to how to assist with dental procedures. A practicum or externship with a dental practice is also a part of the curriculum at many schools -- even in online dental assisting programs -- and ensure students have real-world experience prior to graduation. Graduates may go on to work as dental assistants or dental laboratory technicians.
A certificate or technical diploma is the standard education for many dental assistants. The curriculum of these programs generally prepares students for chairside, administrative and laboratory work. A dental assisting diploma or certificate can be completed in 6-15 months at many schools and is often sufficient to meet the requirements needed for professional certification.
Dental Assisting Program Accreditation
Established in 1975, the Commission on Dental Accreditation is the only agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education to accredit dental-related programs at the postsecondary level. It creates accreditation standards and conducts site visits for predoctoral, allied dental and advanced dental education programs. The organization, known as CODA, has currently accredited 247 dental assisting programs in the United States.
Dental Assisting Licensure and Certification
Most states don't require dental assistants be licensed for entry-level jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, state licensure or registration may be needed to complete more advanced duties such as taking x-rays or working in certain specialties. Check with your state licensing board to determine what's required in your area.
States that do require licensure may be looking for those who have dental assisting certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board. Known as the DANB, this group offers five credentials to dental assistants:
- National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA)
- Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)
- Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)
- Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)
- Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA)
Applicants for these certifications must typically meet minimum education requirements and pass an examination.
The industry group American Medical Technologists also offers a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) credential. Dental assistants may qualify for this designation through one of three routes: education, military or work experience.
Career Outlook for Dental Assisting Majors
Dentists rely on dental assistants to help their practices run smoothly. That, plus the priority many place on good oral health, means job prospects should be bright for those graduating from dental assisting degree programs. Here's a closer look at expected job growth in the field.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Dental Laboratory Technicians||$44,330||34,460||10.7%|
Financial Aid and Scholarships for Dental Assisting Degree Programs
Paying for higher education can be expensive, but help is available. The federal government provides loans and grants that may be used to pay for dental assisting degree programs, and colleges may offer their own financial aid packages. What's more, several scholarship programs are available for dental assistant students. These include the ADAA/DANB Scholarship and the Allied Dental Student Scholarship Program from the American Dental Association Foundation.
Renewable after completion of service obligation.
Q&A with an expert
What would have been helpful to know about dental assisting when you were looking into your own education?
I was a dental assistant before applying to dental school, and it enabled me to get a taste of all of the various procedures, but more importantly, it showed me the daily challenges and rewards of taking care of patients and the amazing transformations possible in the world of dentistry.
Are there specific advantages to earning an associate degree in the field vs. a certificate or diploma? Do employers typically prefer one over the other?
The associate degree will have an advantage over the diploma or certificate. The degree from an accredited school requires much longer training and a wider range of subjects that are applicable to the job such as administrative or record keeping skills as well as speaking, writing, and computer skills. Many dental assistants with degrees often get promoted to other job opportunities within the dental field and higher pay.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Median debt of completers, College Scorecard, 2017
- 3-year loan repayment rate, College Scorecard, 2017
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time retention rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2016-17 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017