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Overview of Associate Degree Programs to Become a Dental Assistant

Majors Overview March 8, 2014

Receive information about associate’s degree programs for a career in dental assisting and its educational requirements, coursework, job and wage outlook, and certification, continuing education, and licensure choices.

A.A. Programs in Dental Assisting

Students enrolled in Associate of Dental Assisting Degree Programs are trained to perform the various tasks done in a dental office. To this end they learn to schedule appointments, manage the office, sterilize equipment, and assist the practitioner.

This highly demanded career in the medical industry is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)). Students enrolled in an associate’s degree program trains individuals to perform a complete range and variety of dental assisting tasks. Individuals who hold bachelor’s degrees in an unrelated field who are interested in pursuing a career in dental assisting can pursue certificate programs in dental assisting that have a shorter time span than an associate’s degree. The Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association is the agency that accredits dental assisting education programs.

Educational Requirements

Admission criteria typically require applicants to hold a GED certificate or high school diploma. Incoming students in some programs are required to hold a current CPR certification and complete an introductory course before they can start core coursework.


Coursework, as in many associate’s degree programs, covers a few general education subject areas, including humanities, science, social science and math, apart from specialized classes in dental science and procedures. One or more internship experiences are included in most programs. Class titles may include:

•Basics of chairside procedures
•Managing dental offices
•Anatomy for dental professionals
•Foundations of dentistry
•Controlling infection

Job and Wage Outlook

A faster-than-average job growth rate of 25% has been projected for dental assistants during the decade from 2012 to 2022 (BLS). The increase is expected to be driven by increasing demand for dental services, including preventive dental care. In 2012, dental assistants took home an average annual wage of $34,500.

Certification, Continuing Education and Licensure Choices

Dental assistants are offered continuing education opportunities and job resources by the Dental Assisting National Board. Certification programs for professionals in the field are also offered by the board. Passage of a rigorous exam, radiation health and safety, and chairside assisting will enable candidates to earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

Continuing education will allow recertification. A certification program for dental assistants is also offered by the American Medical Technologists that generally requires passage of an exam and completion of an accredited program.

Dental assistants need registration and licensure in most states, but the standards may vary by state (BLS). In the absence of national standards, individuals interested in dental assisting should verify the licensure norms to be satisfied in their home state.

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