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Dental Assisting Programs

Dental Assisting Programs

What Are Dental Assistants?

Dental assistants fill a variety of important roles within a dental office, from performing clerical duties such as scheduling and record keeping to providing support for dentists as they treat patients. Dental assistants often work with minimal supervision. They routinely prepare treatment rooms for patients by sterilizing equipment and gathering materials required for dental procedures, or they may take X-rays of patients' mouths for the dentist to read. For more information, see our dental assistant career page.

Dental Assistant Program Information

Dental assistant schools teach students the basics of working in a dental office and how to navigate insurance and billing paperwork. There is more than one path to follow for a career as a dental assistant. Dental assistants might learn their skills through on-the-job training or from campus-based dental assistant programs, which are typically offered at trade schools or community colleges. Dental assistant training may also be available through online or hybrid programs, for those seeking a more flexible schedule.

Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam such as the Certified Dental Assistant exam, according to BLS.gov. State boards of dentistry describe specific requirements, including licensing or certification. The Dental Assisting National Board lists programs approved by the Commission on Dental Accreditation in various states. BLS.gov notes that dental assisting programs should provide supervised practical experience and laboratory work with instruction on teeth, gums and jaws. It's important for individuals interested in this field to do research on their own state's licensing regulations.

Dental Assistant Program Types

Dental assistant training programs typically result in one of the following:

  • Certificate or Diploma: Vocational and online schools offer this type of program, and the time required can vary widely, with some programs lasting up to 10 months. Accelerated programs are also available, for example, a 14-week course. Studies may cover the use of dental radiology equipment, principles of chair-side assisting, treatment planning and so on.
  • Associate Degree: An associate degree may take up to two years of full-time study, and students have the option of further advancing their education with a bachelor's degree. Instruction in general education subjects such as math and English could potentially help students in clerical and administrative duties.

Dental Assistant Course Descriptions

Course content varies from one program to the next, but instruction often includes academic subjects such as radiology, pharmacology, anesthesiology, anatomy and physiology. Common courses include the following:

  • Business Administration for Dental Assisting: Dental office management courses can introduce students to specialized software applications, clinical and periodontal charting, submitting insurance claims and more.
  • Dental Law and Ethics: Classes typically explore potential legal and ethical issues related to dentistry as well as specific state regulations and laws.
  • Dental Terminology and Fundamentals: Broad-ranging topics could include oral anatomy and tooth structures, with an overview of specialized terms.
  • Dental Materials: Studies could include laboratory procedures and equipment and safety concerns. Students can examine the properties of different types of cement, materials used for restoration and impression, and gypsum products.

Other coursework could cover community health, computers in dental office administration, and topics like infection control, dental caries and cavity classification.

Dental Assistant Specialties

Students at dental assistant schools may be exposed to different specialties, such as dental radiography, during their training. Dental assistants may also explore specialized career paths after graduation, as they gain knowledge of office practices and procedures. Specialties include the following options, which may require additional education or experience:

  • Endodontics (such as root canal therapy)
  • Dental hygiene (various practices for cleaning)
  • Orthodontics (straightening of tooth irregularities)
  • Pediatric dentistry (caring for children)
  • Periodontics (for example, care of the gums)

Related Careers For Dental Assistants

Students may seek targeted training to become clinical dental assistants or dental office administrators. With additional education or experience, dental assistants may be able to pursue careers in different fields. Similar occupations could include:

Links to Sources and Associations

The following sources provide information about dental assisting instruction, accreditation and certification exams:

American Dental Assistants Association

American Dental Association

Commission on Dental Accreditation

Dental Assistants, Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

Dental Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

Dental Assisting National Board

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Dental Assistant (10-Month Diploma Program)
UEI College , Encino
  • Dedicated to providing  career training since 1975.
  • Has 13 campus locations in Southern California and a campus in Morrow, GA.
  • Provides flexible class times including weekends.
  • Offers curriculum that ranges from 8 month diploma programs to 16-month Associate of Applied Science degree programs.
  • Has admissions professionals available to help students decide which diploma or degree program they should pursue.
  • Gives job placement assistance strengthened by relationships with local employers.
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  • Accredited
  • Flexible Scheduling
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Dental Assisting
  • Offers medical and cosmetic programs, including dental assisting, massage therapy, cosmetology, esthetics, and more.
  • Features a public salon and spa where students may get real-world experience.
  • Offers scholarship opportunities for students wo qualify.
  • Accredited by the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
  • 2 separate Vacaville campuses, one is for medical careers and the other is the beauty academy.
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  • Accredited
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
Medical Assisting
Platt College , Alhambra
Good for Working Adults
  • A Los Angeles-based private college offering programs in medical sciences, legal studies, and graphic design since 1985.
  • Has weekend programs, including certified  veterinary technology, nurse assistant, and hemodialysis technician.
  • Showcases visual communication students’ artwork and design through campus magazine.
  • 3 campuses in Southern California.
  • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
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  • Accredited
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Accelerated Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
Certificate - Medical Assistant
Good for Working Adults
  • Offers a program that translates work and military experience into college credit, transfers in credit from other college programs, and offers the flexibility of day, evening and online coursework.
  • Provides in-person tutoring, IT support, access to library resources, and job placement assistant for graduates.
  • Features a new blended-learning curriculum, which involves a mix of campus and online courses.
  • Has 11 campuses across Southern California, Washington, and Alaska, and online courses with campus support. 
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  • Accredited
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Accelerated Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits