Associate in Dental Assisting Programs

January 5, 2022

reviewed by ACO Rankings Team
Associate in Dental Assisting Programs

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Dental assistant programs prepare graduates to work in an in-demand field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for dental assistants to grow 7% between 2019-2029, which is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations. 

Several schools offer online dental assistant programs. Typical admission requirements include a high school diploma or equivalent. Applicants may also need to submit standardized test scores. 

This guide ranks the best online dental assistant programs. It also covers other important information for learners, including scholarship opportunities for dental assistant students.


Frequently Asked Questions About Dental Assistant Programs

Q. What does it take to become a dental assistant?

Dental assistants must complete an accredited associate or certificate program, or at least two years of on-the-job training and pass a licensure exam.

Q. What is the difference between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist?

Dental assistants do not perform any direct work on patients, except for taking X-rays and preparing patients for a procedure. Dental hygienists render direct patient care, such as removing stains and plaque, applying decay preventives, and administering local anesthetics.

Q. How much do dental assistants make?

The BLS reports a median annual salary of $40,080 for licensed dental assistants.

Q. What does a dental assistant do?

Dental assistants perform many duties, including sterilizing instruments, preparing patients for treatment, and handing instruments to dentists during procedures. They also take and process X-rays.

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Dental Assisting Specialization


Dental assistants can specialize in specific practice areas, such as pediatrics or orthodontics. Even if a dental assistant program does not provide concentration tracks, students can often enroll in elective courses to specialize their studies. Many dental assistant programs offer one or more of the specializations described below.

  1. Pediatric Dentistry

    Dental assistants who specialize in pediatric dentistry work with younger patients, typically infants to adolescents. They perform certain tasks that cater to the needs of young dental clients, such as applying sealants, teaching patients the proper way to floss and brush their teeth, and providing interceptive orthodontic care.

  2. Orthodontics

    Orthodontists specialize in realigning teeth to improve function and appearance. A dental assistant who specializes in this field takes X-rays and impressions that aid orthodontists in teeth realignment. They also teach patients how to care for their dental gear, document information, and perform preliminary exams.

  3. Oral Surgery

    Dental assistants with training in oral surgery perform tasks such as administering anesthesia and monitoring a patient's vital signs throughout a surgical procedure. They also prepare the dental tray to make sure the surgical instruments are properly sterilized and ready for use.

Accreditation for Dental Assisting


Accreditation indicates that a school meets high academic standards with respect to factors like academic rigor, student learning outcomes, and faculty qualifications. Schools may receive regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. 

Programs within a school may also hold accreditation. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) serves as the main accrediting agency for dental education. 

Accreditation benefits students in several ways. For instance, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions. Additionally, many professional licenses and certifications require an accredited degree.

Career and Salary Outlook for Dental Assistants


Accredited dental assistant programs prepare graduates for the duties and responsibilities of the profession. However, dental assistants can also use their degree to pursue additional degrees, such as a bachelor's in dental hygiene.

Dental Assistant

In addition to helping dentists during different types of oral procedures, dental assistants take patient histories, sterilize and maintain instruments, and teach patients about proper oral care and hygiene. Depending on the size of the practice, dental assistants may also schedule appointments and help patients with billing and payment.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Dental Assistants $40,080 7%

Source: BLS

License and Certification Requirements for Dental Assistants


To date, 38 states recognize or require dental assistants to hold the certified dental assistant (CDA) credential from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Some states require additional DANB certification for practitioners who plan to pursue a career in a specific arena, such as the certified oral and maxillofacial surgery assistant credential.

Certification requirements vary by state, but candidates typically need an associate degree or a dental assisting certificate from a CODA-accredited school to sit for the exam. Candidates without a degree or certificate who can show full-time, on-the-job training that lasted for at least two years can also sit for the exam.

Scholarships for Dental Assistants


Schools offering online dental assistant programs often maintain financial aid packages for their students. In addition, enrollees can find several scholarship and grant programs administered by private organizations, state and federal agencies, professional associations, and large corporations with an interest in the dentistry field. Below, we describe three such scholarships.

American Dental Assistants Association Scholarships

Who Can Apply: Dental assisting students enrolled in a CODA-accredited program can apply for one of the financial aid programs administered by the ADAA. Applicants must demonstrate excellent academic performance and hold ADAA membership.
Amount: Varies

Dr. Carolyn Ghazal Dental Assistant Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Administered by the Pacific Dental Services Foundation, the scholarship welcomes applications from dental assisting students enrolled in an accredited program. Applicants must demonstrate financial need and a commitment to a career in the field. The scholarship also provides mentorship opportunities and on-the-job training.
Amount: $5,000

National Dental Association Foundation Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Dental assistant students who demonstrate financial need can apply for this scholarship. Applicants must show evidence of community service and submit two recommendation letters and a letter of request.
Amount: $800

Associate in Dental Assisting Programs 2021


Hinds Community College View School Profile Raymond, MS $4089

The associate of applied science in dental assisting technology at Hinds Community College comprises 64 credits and includes classroom instruction, supervised clinical training, and lab hours. The clinical component of the program gives enrollees the opportunity to assist dentists in actual practice. The Commission on Dental Accreditation accredits the program.

Students can earn the AAS degree after three full semesters of enrollment, plus an intervening summer session. Each semester comprises 18-19 credits, with the summer session requiring eight credits to complete. The core curriculum consists of courses in dental science, chairside assisting, practice management, and a survey of microcomputer applications. Students also enroll in classes in English composition, interpersonal communication, and electives in math, the humanities, and behavioral science.

The program prepares enrollees to take the Dental Assisting National Board exams during the second and third semesters. Students who pass the exam earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

Pearl River Community College View School Profile Poplarville, MS $8307

Pearl River Community College offers a dental assisting degree accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. Students can pursue a technical degree or an associate of applied science. The technical degree comprises 48 credits and includes coursework in dental science, radiology, chairside assisting, and dental assisting materials, among others. Students who wish to earn the 60-credit AAS must enroll in additional general education courses and take electives in math, science, fine arts, or the humanities.

To graduate from the program, students must earn a C average during their entire course of study and pass the Dental Assisting National Board exam. The exam tests the candidates' knowledge in three areas: infection control, radiology, and general chairside. Students typically graduate after one year of enrollment, or two full semesters and a summer term. Candidates who pass the exam earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

Central Community College View School Profile Grand Island, NE $8220

Central Community College in Grand Island, Nebraska offers a dental assisting program at the diploma and associate level. The diploma program comprises 43 credits, while the associate of applied science in dental assisting consists of 61 credits. To earn the AAS degree, students must complete the diploma coursework and enroll in additional elective, business, and general education classes.

Applicants need a high school diploma with a minimum 2.0 GPA or a GED certificate. The program also requires applicants to submit scores from an acceptable placement test such as the ACT or Compass.

The core dental assisting curriculum includes coursework in dental anatomy and physiology, oral pathology, nutrition and prevention in dentistry, and dental practice management. Students must also complete a clinical experience prior to graduation. The program prepares students for the Dental Assisting National Board exam to earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

The Commission on Dental Accreditation has accredited CCC's dental assisting program since 1966.

Eastern Gateway Community College View School Profile Steubenville, OH $3446

The certificate in dental assisting at Eastern Gateway Community College comprises 34 credits and takes just one year to complete. The curriculum includes coursework in dental anatomy, infection control, chairside assisting, and dental administrative procedures. Students must earn a grade of C or better to continue in the program. Graduates can sit for the Dental Assisting National Board exam. Successful test-takers earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

Upon acceptance students must successfully complete a CPR course and pass a criminal background check. They must also attend a health orientation prior to beginning their studies.

Certificate-holders can pursue an associate of applied science degree by completing another 26 credits to meet the AAS requirement of 60 credits. AAS coursework covers subjects such as quantitative reasoning, human anatomy and physiology, and general psychology. Most students earn their AAS after an additional year of enrollment.

The dental assisting program at EGCC is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Kaskaskia College View School Profile Centralia, IL $4923

Kaskaskia College offers more than 150 associate and certificate programs including a certificate and an associate of applied science in dental assisting. Students enroll in classes in dental anatomy and physiology, infection control, therapeutics and emergencies, and dental assisting procedures.

The certificate program prepares graduates to take the Dental Assisting National Board exam. Successful test-takers earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential. The AAS requires enrollment in additional coursework in human health and wellness, microbiology, general chemistry, and contemporary mathematics. The AAS prepares students for undergraduate study.

The dental assisting program requires applicants to hold a high school diploma or a GED certificate. Applicants must also submit their latest ACT or SAT scores. The program includes classroom instruction, lab hours, and supervised chairside training in private dental clinics. Kaskaskia's dental assisting degree is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Mid-Plains Community College View School Profile North Platte, NE $6812

MPCC offers an 11-month dental assisting program that prepares graduates for the Dental Assisting National Board exam. Successful examinees earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential. In addition to performing a variety of chairside services, Nebraska authorizes holders of an accredited dental assisting degree to process dental X-rays and perform coronal polishing.

The dental assisting diploma consists of 60 credits. It includes coursework in head and neck anatomy, dental radiology, pharmacology and medical emergencies, and prevention and nutrition. Applicants must hold at least a high school diploma or a GED certificate. They must also complete Accuplacer testing and meet the program's minimum threshold to be considered for the dental assisting program. Diploma-holders can continue on to a dental assisting associate program by completing general education requirements and enrolling in additional elective classes.

The dental assisting degree at MPCC is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Mott Community College View School Profile Flint, MI $5291

The dental assisting degree at Mott Community College meets the education and licensure requirements for performing basic and expanded dental functions in Michigan. Graduates can sit for the Michigan State Board Examination to become licensed as a Registered Dental Assistant. The program also prepares and qualifies graduates to take the Dental Assisting National Board exam for the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

The associate of applied science in dental assisting consists of 70 credits. Most students complete the program in two years by enrolling in four consecutive semesters and one summer. The curriculum includes core dental assisting classes and general education courses. Dental assisting coursework covers topics such as nutrition and preventive dentistry, operative techniques, oral pathology, and advanced clinical procedures, among others.

The program requires applicants to hold a high school diploma or a GED certificate and to submit ACT or Accuplacer scores. Enrollees must maintain a 2.5 average throughout their program to be eligible for graduation.

Delta College View School Profile University Center, MI $4256

Delta College offers a dental assisting degree leading to an associate of applied science. The program comprises 75 credits and prepares students for the Registered Dental Assistant credential. Michigan requires dental assistants to earn the credential before they can assist dentists in operative, restorative, and preventive procedures and perform other independent duties. The AAS also qualifies degree-holders to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board exam. Successful test-takers earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential, which is recognized throughout the country.

The AAS curriculum includes core dental coursework and general education classes. Enrollees study a variety of subjects, such as the essentials of human anatomy and physiology, clinical dental assisting, basic medical emergencies, and dental health and nutrition. Students must complete general education classes prior to enrolling in dental assisting courses. Only enrollees with a C average throughout their course of study are eligible for graduation.

University of Southern Indiana View School Profile Evansville, IN $12587

The University of Southern Indiana offers dental assisting programs at the certificate and associate levels. Applicants must complete prerequisite courses in rhetoric and composition, public speaking, and medical terminology before they can enroll in dental assisting classes.

The 41-credit, one-year certificate program includes coursework in oral pathology, preventive dentistry, applied dental materials, and practice management and ethics. The program prepares graduates for the Dental Assisting National Board exam. Individuals who pass the exam earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

Students can complete a second year of study to earn an associate of science degree with a concentration in dental assisting. An AS degree meets the educational requirement of most bachelor's programs in the field. Whether enrolled in a certificate program or pursuing an associate degree, dental assisting enrollees must maintain a C average throughout their course of study to be eligible for graduation.

The university's dental assisting program is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Chattanooga State Community College View School Profile Chattanooga, TN $6803

The associate of applied science in dental assisting at Chattanooga State Community College comprises 62 credits and can typically be completed within two years. After satisfactory completion of the first year in the program, students can sit for the Dental Assisting National Board exam. Examinees who pass the test earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

Applicants must accrue sufficient points to be admitted to the program. Points are awarded for meeting the minimum 2.0 GPA (higher GPAs garner more points), college credits, completion of prerequisite courses, and state residency.

The AAS degree includes general education coursework and core dental assisting subjects. Students enroll in classes in fundamentals of communication, human anatomy and physiology, composition, and dental radiology.

Tennessee requires dental assistants to be registered or licensed by the Board of Dentistry. Graduates of the college's dental assisting program can apply for Registered Dental Assistant licensure with the state board. The dental assisting program is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Kirkwood Community College View School Profile Cedar Rapids, IA $9226

Students can typically complete the dental assisting program at Kirkwood Community College after just one year of enrollment. The 46.5-credit diploma prepares graduates for the Dental Assisting National Board exam. Passing the exam leads to the Certified Dental Assistant credential. Successful completion of the program also qualifies students to test for an Iowa dental assisting license, which is required before they can practice within the state.

Enrollees study a range of subjects such as oral pathology for dental assisting, head and neck anatomy, preventive dentistry, and dental office procedures. Graduates of the diploma program can earn an associate of applied science degree by continuing on to another year of enrollment. The AAS program comprises 64.5 credits and requires the completion of general education and elective coursework. Students must maintain a C average throughout the program to be eligible for the diploma or the AAS.

Coastal Alabama Community College View School Profile Bay Minette, AL $6482

The Nursing and Allied Health Division at the Coastal Alabama Community College offers dental assisting programs that lead to a certificate or an associate of applied science degree. The 48-credit certificate program prepares graduates to take the Dental Assisting National Board exam in infection control, radiation health and safety, and general chairside practice. Students who pass the exam earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

Certificate-holders can earn an AAS by enrolling in 12 additional credits of general education courses in fine arts, chemistry, biology, and sociology. The college designed the certificate program and AAS degree to prepare graduates for immediate employment after completion. As such, few of the dental assisting courses transfer to a four-year program.

Applicants with a high school diploma must show a minimum cumulative 2.5 GPA. Applicants with college experience must show a 2.3 GPA (or higher) in the last 24 credits of college enrollment. The dental assisting program is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Broward College View School Profile Fort Lauderdale, FL $7457

Broward College offers a diploma in dental assisting, as well as an associate of science degree. The 12-month, 50-credit diploma leads to an Applied Technology Diploma (ATD) in Dental Assisting. The program prepares students for the Dental Assisting National Board exam where they can earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential. ATD graduates also earn the Expanded Functions Certificate and the Dental Radiographer Certificate that qualify them to perform a variety of job responsibilities under these titles in Florida.

To be eligible for the program, applicants must accumulate enough points based on several factors such as their high school GPA, military training, and their scores on the Health Educational Systems test. The ATD curriculum includes courses in allied dental theory, clinical procedures, preventive dentistry, and dental radiography. Broward College maintains ties with several community-based health facilities in addition to an on-campus clinic where dental assistants receive clinical training.

Northwestern Michigan College View School Profile Traverse City, MI $8273

At Northwestern Michigan College, students can pursue a certificate or an associate of applied science in dental assisting. The Commission on Dental Accreditation accredits both programs. Graduates can sit for the Dental Assisting National Board exam to earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential.

Michigan also requires dental assistants to secure the Registered Dental Assistant certification, which is a separate credential administered by the Michigan Board of Dentistry. NMC's dental assisting programs meet the educational requirement for the RDA certification.

Applicants must show a minimum 2.0 GPA on their high school or college transcript. Completed coursework must include prerequisite classes in advanced algebra and English composition. The AAS curriculum comprises 59.7-61.7 credits. Students enroll in classes in human biology, dental anatomy, oral pathology and pharmacology, and chairside procedures. Enrollees must maintain a 2.0 GPA or higher in all required dental assisting coursework to continue in the program and be eligible for graduation.

Renton Technical College View School Profile Renton, WA $5908

The associate of applied science in dental assisting at Renton Technical College comprises 91 quarter credits (60 semester credits) and is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. RTC offers an associate of applied science program that prepares graduates for the workforce immediately after graduation. The school also offers an AAS-T dental assisting degree designed for enrollees who plan to pursue a bachelor's degree after graduation.

RTC grants a certificate of completion after students successfully pass all core dental assisting classes. The certificate qualifies holders to take the Dental Assisting National Board exam where successful examinees earn the Certified Dental Assistant credential. After completing the certificate, students can continue to the AAS or the AAS-T program.

The program includes classroom instruction, lab training, and clinical experiences. Dental assisting classes cover topics such as clinical assisting, dental radiology, preventive dentistry and nutrition, and infection control. Students must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA to earn the certificate or associate degree.

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