How to Become a Dental Assistant

As a dental assistant, you’ll enjoy a job that is always in demand, that has a healthy salary, and that provides the opportunity to genuinely help people. It’s medical and scientific, without requiring huge amounts of training as would be necessary to become a nurse, doctor, or dentist. In this post, we will examine this profession in detail.

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

The role of a dental assistant is to help assist the dentist in any way they can. This can involve a number of key roles, ranging from basic admin (arranging and managing appointments, dealing with patient records, and ordering supplies) to clinical duties. Clinical duties can involve handling tools, sterilizing equipment, operating suction devices and others, processing x-rays, making impressions to be used for dental fixtures, and putting the patient at ease during their visit.

The skills that are required for a dental technician therefore include:

  • Great people skills and bedside manner
  • Organization and administrative
  • Technically minded
  • Quick learner

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in May 2018 that dental assistants were earning a median salary of $38,660. The highest earners received around $54,800. Factors influencing wage included level of experience, geographic factors, and length of employment1.

Dental assistant is a future-proof job role, with the demand expecting to grow by 11% between 2018 and 2028. This is much higher than the average for all job growth.


There are no strict qualifications necessary to become a dental nurse/assistant2. Training can be done on the job, which means that you’ll be able to land a role without having prior experience or qualifications.

Alternatively, you can study for this job by taking a dental assistant program. These courses tend to last anywhere from nine months to two years, depending on the level of the qualification. Common qualifications include:

  • Diploma
  • Certificate
  • Degree program

Of course, the higher your level of training, the more chance you have of landing jobs that you apply to.

If you lack directly relevant training as a dental assistant, you may still benefit from tangentially related qualifications and experience. For instance, experience working in administration might provide a useful background and help your CV to stand out among the competition. Similarly, previous experience working in a medical role such as medical coding, could help to give you an edge.

Prospective dental assistants can also complete internships in order to gain additional experience and set themselves apart from the class. Many academic programs provide internships as a voluntary aspect of their coursework, offering more real-world experience and hands-on practice.

Choosing a Focus

There is actually more than one type of dental assistant, and it is up to you to choose which type of role you want to specialize in. Dental assistants may specialize in pediatric dentistry, endodontics, periodontics, prosthodontics, dentofacial orthodontics, or maxillofacial surgery.


Some states require licensing and certification for dental assistants. To learn more about the laws in your specific area, you can visit the Dental Assisting National Board’s3 (DANB) website.

Certification requires students to pass a 320 question exam that is offered at Pearson VUE test centers. This focuses on chair-side manner, radiation health and safety, and infection control. The test has a possible maximum of 900 points, with entrants requiring a score of 400 or above in order to gain certification. You can sit the exam as many times as you wish.

It is also possible to gain certification and licensing from other bodies, which may further help enhance your resume, and your chances of gaining employment.

Getting Started

To get started, hopeful assistants should first seek out a training course that matches their budget and lifestyle. Ensure that these courses are accredited by the American Dental Association4 (there are 270 such courses). You should also ensure that all major topics are covered by the course, including:

  • Oral anatomy
  • Radiography
  • Dental materials
  • Clinical dental assisting

If you are eager to get qualified quickly, then consider an accelerated program.

Once you are ready, you can begin applying to dental assistant roles through job listing sites, or by asking about openings in your local area.

  1. What does a dental assistant do?
  2. How to become a dental nurse
  3. Dental Assisting National Board
  4. American Dental Association