How To Become A Dental Assistant Without Going To School

Last Updated on December 26, 2022 by

There is no formal training required to commence entry-level work as a Dental Assistant. Many Dental Assistants with several years’ experience continue to further their education with additional formal training in order to progress their careers, such as specialising in dental hygiene or dental therapy.

Right here on Collegelearners, you can rest assured to find all the relevant information you need on how long does it take to become a dental assistant, dental assistant certification online, how to become a certified dental assistant, how much is dental assistant school, can you work as a dental assistant without being certified, and lots more. Be sure to visit our catalog for more information on related topics.

Have you ever wondered what it takes to become a dental assistant?

It’s not as hard as you might think. In fact, there are many ways to learn the skills necessary to be a dental assistant without going to school. Here are some examples of how easy it can be:

  1. Take a class at a community college or vocational school near your home. These classes are usually taught by instructors who are licensed professionals in their field so they will have first-hand knowledge on how to teach you what you need to know and prepare you for working in this field.
  2. Join an online forum where dental assistants meet up and talk about their experiences and share tips with each other about what works best for them when dealing with clients or patients who may have special needs or who need extra attention due to age or illness (for example). This is also an excellent way for new graduates entering into this field from high school or college who want more experience before applying for full-time positions at hospitals or medical offices where doctors practice medicine regularly on patients under supervision from medical professionals like nurses and other healthcare workers who work together towards providing better care for all patients in need of treatment/evaluation by doctors who specialize in areas like dentistry.”

Dental Assistant Certification

Do You Need a License to Be a Dental Assistant?

More often than not, states don’t require licenses for Dental Assistants. However, some states might require Dental Assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified. Additionally, some states have specific licensing requirements for DAs to work in radiography (X-ray), infection control, or other specialties. To learn more, contact your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

Other states require Dental Assistants to pass an exam before they perform expanded duties (i.e. coronal polishing). These exams are administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Educational requirements for DANB exams/certifications often include:

  • Graduating from an accredited program or
  • A high school diploma and the necessary work experience
  • Current CPR certification (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)

National Certification

Below are the five national certifications that DANB offers.

  1. National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA®)
  2. Certified Dental Assistant™ (CDA®)
  3. Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA®)
  4. Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA®)
  5. Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA®)
What Does a Dental Assistant Do? | Carrington College

How To Become A Dental Assistant Without Going To School

If you’re considering a career as a Dental Assistant (DA), and you’re curious about the benefits and requirements that go along with it, this article will serve as a great resource for you. Below you’ll find a wealth of information about how to start your career in oral hygiene.

Dental Assistants have great interpersonal skills, and they prefer to work with their hands rather than at a desk. They also have an eye for detail, maintain impressive dexterity, and support dentists while patients are treated. Some benefits of Dental Assisting include a sunny job outlook and career stability. If you’re interested in helping others, then learn more about this hands-on profession!

How to Become a Certified Dental Assistant


Our comprehensive career guide will cover the following questions:

  • What qualifications do you need to be a Dental Assistant?
  • Do you make good money as a Dental Assistant?
  • How long do you go to school to become a Dental Assistant?
  • How much does it cost to become a Dental Assistant?
  • Are Dental Assistants in demand?
  • Where do Dental Assistants get paid the most?
  • Do you need a license to be a Dental Assistant?
  • What are key traits a Dental Assistant needs to have?

But first, let’s start with the definition of a Dental Assistant…

What is a Dental Assistant?

Dental Assistant Definition

Dental Assistants play a major role in dental health. On any given day, they might do everything from disinfecting instruments to taking dental X-rays and assisting the dentist during exams. Dental Assistants are responsible for putting a diverse group of patients at ease, while providing encouragement to patients that range in age and background.

Dental Assistants play a vital role in the dental office, supporting dentists as they examine and treat patients. Essentially, they are the dentist’s extra hands. While job duties may vary depending on the location and employer, a Dental Assistant’s role typically includes the following:

  • Ensure patients are comfortable in the dental chair
  • Prepare patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
  • Assist with oral surgeries
  • Sterilize dental instruments
  • Hand instruments to dentist during procedures
  • Evacuate oral cavities and keep patient’s mouth dry by using suction hoses and other equipment
  • Make dental impressions
  • Instruct patients in proper oral hygiene
  • Take and process dental X-rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist
  • Install fixed prosthodontics
  • Maintain inventory for dental practices
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Work with patients on billing and payment


Dental Assistants are allowed to perform the following procedures in some states, including California:

  • Coronal polishing – Removing soft deposits such as plaque, which gives teeth a cleaner appearance.
  • Sealant application – A thin, plastic substance that’s painted over teeth to seal out food particles and acid-producing bacteria, which will help prevent cavities.
  • Fluoride application – Fluoride is put directly on the teeth as another anti-cavity measure.
  • Topical anesthetic application – Applied to an area of a patient’s mouth, temporarily numbing it to help prepare them for procedures.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist

What Does a Dental Assistant Do

Dental Assistants and Dental Hygienists are two separate professions.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Dental Assistants work under the supervision of dentists and assist Dental Hygienists with their day-to-day activities.

Dental Hygienists have a wider range of job duties and responsibilities. While Dental Assistants assist the oral hygiene team, Dental Hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases, and provide other dental care.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: Education

Some states require Dental Assistants to complete an accredited program and pass an exam. Others do not require a formal education, though many employers will only hire trained applicants.

Dental Hygienists, on the other hand, typically need to earn an associate degree in dental hygiene. They also must be licensed in all states.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Hygienist: Salary

As of 2020:

  • The median annual salary for Dental Assistants was $41,180 (BLS)
  • The median annual salary for Dental Hygienists was $77,090 (BLS)

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Technician

If Dental Assistants are the face of the office, then Dental Technicians provide structure behind the scenes. Typically, Dental Technicians construct, fit, or repair medical appliances and devices (i.e. dentures). One of the biggest differences between these two professions is patient contact. Dental Assistants spend most of their days interacting with patients, whereas Dental Technicians usually work in labs.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Technician: Education

Like Dental Assistants, Dental Technicians do not always need formal training to find employment. However, unlike Dental Assistants, Dental Technicians often complete on-the-job training. They typically need a high school diploma or equivalent.

Dental Assistant vs. Dental Technician: Salary

As of 2020:

  • The median annual salary for Dental Assistants was $41,180 (BLS)
  • The median annual salary for Dental Technicians was $38,620 (BLS)

Dental Assistant Soft Skills

What Are the Key Traits a Dental Assistant Needs to Have?

To become a DA, you should have:

  • A detail-oriented natureas Dental Assistants must follow specific rules and protocols when helping dentists treat patients.
  • Dexterityas Dental Assistants generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, using very precise tools and instruments.
  • Interpersonal skills, as Dental Assistants work closely with dentists and patients.
  • Listening skills, as Dental Assistants often listen to patients and other healthcare workers. They may need to follow directions, assist a distressed patient, etc.
  • Organizational skills, as Dental Assistants should have the correct tools in place for a dentist or dental hygienist to use when treating a patient.

Dental Assistant Requirements

What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a Dental Assistant?

In the U.S., there are several paths you can take to become a Dental Assistant. It really depends on your employer and location, as some states require aspiring DAs to graduate from a formal or accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no such requirements.

To learn more about your state’s requirements, visit the Dental Assisting National Board.

Dental Assisting Program

What Should You Look for in a Dental Assisting School?

Prospective students may value different things in a Dental Assistant program. Some students feel that a close student-to-teacher ratio is vital to their success in the classroom, while others might place greater value in the number of hours set aside for externships. Take a moment to consider what is important to you and ask the right questions when meeting with admissions representatives.

Here are some sample questions you might want to ask when applying for dental assistant school:

  • What are the tuition costs and financial aid options?
  • What are the academic prerequisites?
  • How long does it take to complete the program?
  • What specific topics are covered?
  • Are there any clinical externships or simulations?
  • What percentage of the program’s students graduate?
  • What percentage of the program’s graduates find employment?

Dental Assistant School Cost

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Dental Assistant?

Out-of-pocket school costs can vary depending on your individual situation. They will also depend on the location, school, and type of program. Generally speaking, Dental Assistant school prices can range anywhere from $4,000 to $16,000.

Some programs might also charge a higher price for more clinical externships or cutting-edge medical equipment. Again, be sure to research your favored schools and ask the admissions representatives about tuition costs as well as financial aid options. You might be eligible for financial aid, which can cover many college expenses, such as:

  • Tuition
  • Transportation
  • Room and Board
  • Books
  • Computer Equipment
  • Living Expenses

Dental Assistant Certification

Do You Need a License to Be a Dental Assistant?

More often than not, states don’t require licenses for Dental Assistants. However, some states might require Dental Assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified. Additionally, some states have specific licensing requirements for DAs to work in radiography (X-ray), infection control, or other specialties. To learn more, contact your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

Other states require Dental Assistants to pass an exam before they perform expanded duties (i.e. coronal polishing). These exams are administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Educational requirements for DANB exams/certifications often include:

  • Graduating from an accredited program or
  • A high school diploma and the necessary work experience
  • Current CPR certification (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)

National Certification

Below are the five national certifications that DANB offers.

  1. National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA®)
  2. Certified Dental Assistant™ (CDA®)
  3. Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA®)
  4. Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA®)
  5. Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA®)

Dental Assistant Jobs

Where Do Dental Assistants Work?

Dental Assistants usually find employment in the offices of dentists or physicians. In 2020, Dental Assistants held about 330,200 jobs. The largest employers of DAs are as follows:

Offices of dentists90%
Offices of physicians2%
Government2%

Dental Assistant Work Hours

According to the BLS, most Dental Assistants work full time. Some might choose to work evenings or weekends, though. Keep in mind that, as an aspiring DA, you might be asked to come in at odd hours for dental issues or emergencies.

Dental Assistant Salary

How Much Does a Dental Assistant Make?

A Dental Assistant’s pay varies depending on their location, employer, and experience. However, the 2020 median annual salary for Dental Assistants was about $41,180.

Dental Assistant salary may increase, given the sunny job outlook for DAs (more on that in our Job Outlook section). Here are the top industries where the highest-earning DAs work:

IndustryAverage Dental Assistant Salary
Government$44,940
Dental Offices$41,180
Physician Offices$38,600

Where Do Dental Assistants Get Paid the Most?

Top States for Dental Assisting Employment

Though Dental Assistants can find employment anywhere in the country, there are some states with more opportunities than others. Currently, the highest-paying states for Dental Assistants are Minnesota, District of Columbia, New Hampshire, Alaska, and North Dakota.

Here’s the breakdown by location and average salary:

StateDental Assistant Hourly SalaryDental Assistant Annual Salary
Minnesota$25.80$53,670
Massachusetts$24.88$51,750
Alaska$24.63$51,230
New Hampshire$24.43$50,820
Oregon$23.23$48,320

Highest-Paying Cities for Dental Assistants

Now that we’ve covered the top states, let’s delve into the U.S. cities with the best salaries for Dental Assistants (BLS).

CityDental Assistant Hourly SalaryDental Assistant Annual Salary
Santa Rosa, CA$28.16$58,570
Minneapolis, MN$27.04$56,240
Vallejo, CA$26.23$54,550
San Jose, CA$26.08$54,250
Bismarck, ND$25.77$53,600
San Francisco, CA$25.72$53,510
Boston, MA$25.60$53,250
San Luis Obispo, CA$25.52$53,080
Santa Maria, CA$25.22$52,460
Rochester, MN$25.10$52,210

Dental Assistant Job Outlook

Are Dental Assistants in Demand?

The Dental Assisting profession is expected to grow. In fact, the BLS predicts that employment opportunities will increase 11 percent by 2030! Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will likely continue to fuel the demand for preventive dental services, which will push dentists to hire more assistants.

How to Get a Job as a DA

We know it isn’t always easy to start a new career. Time and money can be two major obstacles to overcome, not to mention the fear of jumping into something new. However, it’s no secret that while some industries are cutting back, healthcare professions are on the rise.

Here are some practical tips to help you get ahead while looking for that perfect Dental Assisting job.

  • Career-services. Pick a school with a stellar career-services team who will provide you with employment assistance. Additionally, they can often help you with job-search strategies, resume cleanup, and interview prep.
  • Network. Don’t forget to make connections in your DA program. You could also seek a mentor within the Dental Assisting faculty.
  • Resume. Make sure your resume is polished and ready. Check for typos, fix messy font, and make sure your skills are displayed concisely and efficiently. Remember, a resume is your chance to make a good first impression.

Why Pursue Dental Assistant Training?

Why Pursue Dental Assistant Training

The vital world of dental care is full of great specialties, careers, and people. There are various paths you can choose, as dental workers will always be needed. This is especially evident when you consider the expected job growth for Dental Assistants—which is faster than the average for all occupations—as well as overall growth in the healthcare field.

Without a doubt, Dental Assistants play an important role in dentistry. They not only support dentists on a daily basis, but their actions support the general wellbeing of their communities. Furthermore, the short duration of DA programs allows busy adults to enter the field quickly, making this profession both convenient and attainable.

Dental Assistant Course Requirements

If you’re considering a career as a Dental Assistant (DA), and you’re curious about the benefits and requirements that go along with it, this article will serve as a great resource for you. Below you’ll find a wealth of information about how to start your career in oral hygiene. Dental Assistants have great interpersonal skills, and they prefer to work with their hands rather than at a desk. They also have an eye for detail, maintain impressive dexterity, and support dentists while patients are treated. Some benefits of Dental Assisting include a sunny job outlook and career stability. If you’re interested in helping others, then learn more about this hands-on profession!

Becoming a dental hygienist typically requires an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, although high school students can prepare for the career by taking courses in biology, chemistry and mathematics.

Every state requires hygienists to be licensed, so passing written and practical licensing exams is also essential.

Annual median pay is $70,210, or about $33.75 per hour. The job outlook is strong, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasting the profession will expand by 33 percent by 2022. With more people gaining dental insurance and an aging population needing to maintain their original teeth, that will drive employment in the profession, according to the BLS.

About half of dental hygienists work part time, while some work for more than one dentist given that dentists sometimes only hire them for a few days per week. Aside from training, one important quality is compassion, given patients often have fears about visiting the dentist.

Accredited Programs

Becoming a hygienist does not start and end with a university degree. There are many different paths that you can take to achieve your goals. Across the United States, there are many accredited programs that can replace the standard degree and have you recognized. These courses specialize in teaching dental hygiene and will begin to prepare you for the intense and rigorous job field. These courses are not easy by any means and will require plenty of work to succeed in, but if the school is not your cup of tea, it is a great alternative. At the end of the program, you will have to complete a two-part exam to pass. Should you fail, you will have to retake the course and the exam. If you are looking to broaden your skills for the field, these programs also offer additional qualifications and skills that you can develop to be considered for other tasks within the office. Examples of this include working with X-ray tech and the administration of anesthesia for the mouth. If the university was not meant for you, do not worry as there are plenty of dental programs you can take to get yourself into the field.

Work Experience

Not only do these accredited programs provide you with the education and tools necessary to be eligible for the job, but they also work to provide you with the first-hand experience in a dental office so that when you are hired, you can immediately jump into the position. This is very important as some university degrees do not give you the opportunity to gain experience during your degree. Always take full advantage of this and ask whatever questions you need to as it is the perfect learning experience. With these accredited programs, you will get the necessary experience to feel confident in the job as a hygienist.

How to Become a Dental Hygienist - Redorbit

how much does it cost to become a dental assistant

How Much Do Dental Assisting Programs Cost?

When considering the costs associated with attending a dental assisting program, it’s important to understand the available educational options and career opportunities. Students should also think about the duties dental assistants perform in a dental office.

These duties include clerical and clinical tasks. A dental assistant will assist with labs, x-ray procedures, CPR, patient assessments and other skills involved with providing support to clinicians

The job outlook in this field is very promising. The Unites States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a growth of 19% for dental assistants, which is much faster than the average growth rate for all occupations of 7%. The BLS attributes this growth to the aging baby boomer population, whose good dental hygiene habits encourage regular visits to the dentist for healthy maintenance and treatment 

If this sounds like a career you might be interested in, it is important to understand the cost of dental assisting programs.

Overview of Dental Assisting Programs

Dental assisting programs are offered at a variety of higher education institutions. The costs of these programs will vary depending on length, type of training, and regional differences. Among the institutions that offer dental assistant training are trade/vocational schools, community colleges, and certification programs in four-year colleges.

Coursework at these institutions can include introduction to infection control, restorative dentistry, charting, radiology, and dental specialties. Externships are usually required and included in the cost of tuition.

Cost Breakdown of Dental Assisting Programs

The cost of programs will vary depending on whether the program offers a diploma or an associate’s degree.

Diploma Program: Programs where students earn a diploma upon completion are typically available at vocational schools that also offer flexible schedules and unique student services. These programs may be shorter in length allowing for quicker entry into the workforce, and will likely require only the coursework necessary to become a dental assistant. Unless the program also provides certification, students will need to complete that process after graduation. Tuition costs can range from $3,000-$13,000

Associate’s Degree: An Associate’s Degree in dental assisting is usually obtained at a community college, either public or private. These programs are typically longer in length and may require full-time enrollment to finish degree work in two years, and could include general education coursework. According to a 2019 report, the majority of students in the U.S. pay between $6,000 and $15,000* in tuition per year for both public and private two-year schools 

*These tuition ranges do not include room and board, books and supplies, transportation or other expenses and fees.

Certification Exams

These exams may be offered as a part of a dental assisting program and included in the cost of tuition, or they may need to be taken off campus for an additional cost.

For example, Delta Technical College (Delta Tech) students at the Ridgeland, MS campus enrolled in the Dental Assisting Program, will sit for the DANB Radiology Health & Safety (RHS) and the Infection Control Exam (ICE), which are two of the three tests that are required for a dental assistant certification. The cost of these exams is included in the total cost for Delta Tech’s Dental Assisting Program.

How Do You Pay for Dental Assisting School?

Financial aid is available to qualifying students attending vocational and trade schools and can include:

  • Federal Grants
  • Federal Low-Interest Student Loans
  • GI Bill® Assistance
  • The Workforce Investment Act (WIA)
  • Scholarships

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How Long to Become a Dental Assistant?

Dental Assistant School

There are three routes you can take to become a registered Dental Assistant. Each one requires a different level of time and dedication.

Formal Dental Assistant training may generally take anywhere from nine months to two years to complete, depending on whether it’s a certificate/diploma or degree program. For instance, the Dental Assisting program at Unitek can be completed in as little as 10 months.

Option 1: On-the-Job Training

How to become a Dental Assistant without going to school?

Assuming you live in a state that doesn’t have formal requirements, you might be able to find employment without attending a Dental Assistant program. In these situations, you would gain experience through on-the-job training. A Dental Assistant, hygienist, or dentist in the office would teach you about dental terminology, the names of instruments, how to complete daily tasks, and how to interact with patients.

Option 2: Dental Assistant Certification

In some states, you must graduate from a Dental Assisting certificate or diploma program. They usually require about a year of school. Most Dental Assistant programs are offered by vocational schools or community colleges.

Dental Assisting classes often cover topics like infection control, medical emergencies, dental X-rays, and dental instruments.

Bonus tip: High school students who want to become Dental Assistants should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy.

Option 3: Dental Assistant Degree

Some schools offer an associate-degree program for aspiring Dental Assistants. In these degree programs, general education courses are combined with Dental Assistant education. According to the BLS, however, degree programs that last two years are less common for entry-level DAs.

Dental Assistant Degree vs. Certificate


To become a competitive Dental Assistant, it would be wise to seek formal training. However, degree and diploma-certification programs have different advantages.

While degree programs lay the foundation for higher study—and potentially more job opportunities—they also require more time in school. Additionally, they are often not necessary for entry-level Dental Assistants.

On the other hand, you can typically complete training for a certificate/diploma program in a year or less. These programs may not set the foundation for higher study, but they will equip you with the necessary skillset to launch a successful dental assisting career. They are also more widely offered than DA degree programs.

If you’re wanting to become a dental assistant, there are some things you should know. First off, it’s important to know that there are a few different paths you can take when it comes to becoming a dental assistant. You can go to school and get a degree in dental assisting, or you can learn the skills on the job.

The good news about going to school is that most schools offer courses for people who already have experience in the field, so if you already have some experience as a dental assistant and want to advance your career, this is definitely an option for you. But if you don’t have any experience in the field, then going back to school isn’t really going to help much.

Another option is learning on-the-job through an apprenticeship program at your local hospital or clinic. This type of program allows students to work with an experienced person who will teach them how do everything from sterilizing equipment to filling cavities without hurting anyone!

However, these programs can be expensive and might not be worth it if all they teach is how to do one thing really well (like fill cavities). In this case, it might be better just go get hired on at a local clinic where they’ll train you as needed instead of taking time


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