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How are Dental Assistants Trained?

For those with a passion for helping others, dental assisting has become a very attractive career choice. For several reasons, including job stability and relatively quick entry into the workforce, the occupation has become coveted by interested applicants.

That’s not to say it’s an easy job to perform. Dental assistants have to have excellent communication skills to work effectively alongside other dental professionals, as well as a grasp over administrative and comforting social skills. Additionally, they have to be trained to operate a vast array of equipment used often in dental offices.

As you might expect, all these skills come from a blend of professional experience and focused higher education. Here is a brief overview of how dental assistants are trained:



The first portion of dental assistant training takes place in the classroom. A majority of dental assisting programs span one or two years normally, and different programs offer different achievements; the most common options are earning a diploma, a certificate or an Associate’s degree as a result of education.

Note: Not all states require formal education to become a dental assistant, but it’s certainly an advantage to get some measure of formal training before moving on.

Coursework in these programs covers minimally the basic science of dentistry, including oral and facial anatomy, office administration and other crucial elements to performing a job in a dental office, such as pharmacology and radiology.


Early Professional Experience

One way dental assistants-in-training often choose to hone their skills is by completing externships in dental and orthodontic practices. Externships are different from internships in that they’re often part of a college vocational program, and typically are unpaid.

These experiences serve to help students understand the needs of their future careers, hone administrative and practical knowledge, and get experience in their area of specialization, if applicable.



While many dental assisting hopefuls focus in “general dentistry”, there is a point to choose a more specific path for further training. Some possibilities include orthodontics, periodontics and various fields of oral surgery, for example.


Official Certification

In most states, it’s necessary to pass a certification exam called the Certified Dental Assistant Examination (CDA). This exam includes three components, scored out 900, in which the pupil has to achieve a grade of at least 400 or better to be certified:


  • General Chairside
  • Radiation Health and Safety
  • Infection Control


Each of these three has a specific benchmark goal that is intended to verify whether the dental assisting student truly has mastered all the components necessary to their career.


Additional Certification and Vocational Training

While the CDA is the minimum, many students opt to take additional tests to demonstrate expertise in more areas, such as orthodontics and preventative and restorative dentistry.

Landing yourself a job is certainly not the end of training for a dental assistant. Different offices have different protocols, equipment and practices that it’s very important to be familiar with before being done with training, a process that may never be fully complete.


Further Education

Many dental assistants work in that capacity for a few years and then decide to move on to related careers for which their previous coursework has prepared them. This makes undergoing dental assistant training a very worthwhile effort, both for those interested in staying in the occupation and those moving on after a while.

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…Treat Others As You Would Have Them Treat You … Matthew 7:12