Associate in Dental Assisting Programs 2021

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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.

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Top Associate Programs in Dental Assisting


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • How much do dental assistants make?

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

  • 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.

Associate in Dental Assisting Programs 2021

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

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