Dental Assisting Accreditation: Terms, Requirements, and Process

With a career in dental assisting, you’ll work in an environment in which no 2 days are alike, helping a healthcare team in addressing patients’ individual needs. If you can see yourself in this role, attending an accredited dental assisting program can give you the education and skills you need to make rewarding contributions to this rapidly growing field.

Accredited dental assisting programs have demonstrated that they meet the industry standards for quality education. These programs are key to helping students gain employment, as well as preparing them for state licensing and dental assistant certification.

Looking to learn more about accredited dental assistant programs? Read on to find out how they can make a difference in the advancement of your career.

Why Accreditation Is Important to Your Dental Assisting Career

For dental assisting programs, accreditation emphasizes a voluntary commitment to quality assurance. To earn this credential, a program must submit to an intense evaluation by an independent accrediting body. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) is the organization responsible for accrediting these and other dental education programs.

As a prospective student, selecting an accredited dental assisting program can help you: 

  • Assure that you’re receiving a quality education 
  • Earn credits that can be transferrable among schools  
  • Create employer confidence in your educational credentials
  • Provide access to dental assisting scholarships and government financial aid 

Attending an accredited dental assisting program is also important if you wish to advance your education, like pursuing a higher degree in dental hygiene. Though related, key differences exist between a dental assistant and a dental hygienist. While dental assistants help the team with tasks such as sterilizing equipment, taking X-rays, and assisting patients before and after procedures, dental hygienists are qualified to take on more advanced roles. Responsibilities might include performing cleanings, administering anesthesia, removing sutures, and charting patient information for the dentist.

Can you become a dental assistant without an accredited degree?

You can become a dental assistant without an accredited degree, but it’ll take you longer to earn your certification. While not necessary, this can give you a professional advantage and likely lead to a higher salary.

Immediately following graduation from an accredited program, you’re eligible to take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam given by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). However, if your program wasn’t accredited, you’ll need to complete a minimum of 3,500 hours of approved work experience before you’ll be able to qualify.

Furthermore, though most states have no education or training requirements for entry-level dental assistants, you might need to earn a license if you want to perform more advanced duties. Depending on the requirements of your state, this may mean graduating from an accredited program, earning a set number of hours of experience, and holding your CDA certification. It’s important to understand your state’s regulations and how an accredited degree can facilitate meeting these criteria.

Are there accredited online dental assisting programs? 

Though online accredited dental assistant programs do exist, they also require onsite components. These programs allow you to complete nonclinical coursework online and attend labs and clinical instruction onsite at the school or another designated facility.

Preparing for a career in dental assisting requires hands-on learning and onsite internships. Accredited programs must meet established standards for dental assisting programs, which include a minimum of 300 hours of clinical experience in 2 or more dental offices. To qualify for this requirement, you’ll have to learn lab and preclinical skills that can only be accomplished with hands-on practice.  

Dental Assistant Accreditation & Certification Overview

Dental assistant accreditation and certification are key considerations for entering the field. While it’s possible to become a dental assistant with a high school degree and on-the-job training, these factors can give you a competitive edge in a profession in which there are many pathways to entry.

Accredited dental assisting programs

Accredited dental assisting programs include certificate or diploma programs that require 9–11 months of study, or associate degree programs that last 2 years. These programs are offered at institutions such as technical and community colleges, vocational schools, and universities. Accredited programs provide a standardized curriculum that combines online or classroom instruction with hands-on experience.

Your professional certification

While you may not need professional dental assisting certification to qualify for licensure in your state, the credential can be an important consideration for long-term career success. 

Being certified can demonstrate that you’re serious about your career and dedicated to professional development. In addition, the DANB Salary Survey indicated that: 

  • The salaries of DANB-CDAs are almost $2 per hour higher than non-certified dental assistants and include more employment benefits. 
  • Certified dental assistants felt more confident and knowledgeable when applying for jobs. 
  • CDAs reported more career satisfaction and less job turnover than those who weren’t certified. 

Accreditation Terminology

As you explore and consider your options for pursuing an accredited dental assistant program, you’re likely to encounter some key terminology. Some important organizations related to accreditation include: 

ADAA: the American Dental Assistants Association 

ADAA is the national professional organization for dental assistants. It’s dedicated to advancing the careers of dental assistants, providing continuing education, and promoting the dental assisting profession.  

ADA: the American Dental Association 

The ADA is the largest professional association of dentists in the U.S. It supports the dental profession and promotes public dental health. The ADA oversees the professional board responsible for accrediting dental assisting programs.  

CODA: the ADA’s Commission on Dental Accreditation 

CODA is the national accrediting agency for dental assisting and other postsecondary dental-related programs. Working under the ADA, CODA provides educational standards to help ensure that dental assisting students receive the training they need to provide effective care and succeed professionally.  

DANB: the Dental Assisting National Board 

DANB is the nationally recognized certification agency for dental assistants. By providing high standards for testing and certification, DANB ensures that the public receives appropriate dental care from qualified individuals. 

In exploring accredited programs, you’ll also find that some include preparation for different certifications and related qualifying exams offered by the DANB. These include:  

  • CDA/GC: Certified Dental Assisting/General Chairside 
    DANB’s CDA certification exam consists of 3 component exams. They include the GC in addition to Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) and Infection Control (ICE).   
  • COA/OA: Certified Orthodontic Assistant/Orthodontic Assisting 
    DANB’s COA certification exam consists of 2 component exams: OA and Infection Control (ICE).  
  • CPFDA: Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant  
    DANB’s CPFDA certification exam consists of 3 component exams: Coronal Polish (CP), Sealants (SE), and Topical Fluoride (TF).  
  • CRFDA: Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant 
    DANB’s CRFDA certification exam consists of 6 component exams: Anatomy, Morphology, and Physiology (AMP); Impressions (IM); Isolation (IS); Sealants (SE); Temporaries (TMP); and Restorative Functions (RF).  
  • NELDA: National Entry-Level Dental Assistant  
    DANB’s NELDA certification exam consists of 3 component exams: Anatomy, Morphology, and Physiology (AMP); Infection Control (ICE); and Radiation Health and Safety (RHS). It’s offered as an entry-level option for dental assistants who don’t meet the qualifications for other DANB certifications. 

Finding an ADA Accredited Dental Assistant Program Near You

There are about 270 accredited dental assistant programs in the U.S. You can access a searchable state-categorized database on the CODA website. In Canada, dental assisting programs are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation of Canada (CDAC). CDA-accredited dental assisting programs are available on the organization’s website.  

When researching an accredited dental assistant program, consider whether the program matches your goals and resources. Ask questions such as:  

  • Does this program offer the specific curriculum I want to study? 
  • Will this program apply toward my state’s requirements for certification or licensing? 
  • How successful have previous graduates been in earning their credentials? 
  • Is there an online or part-time component for working students? 
  • Will the program assist me in finding an internship?
  • Is the school accredited to ensure quality and eligibility for federal financial aid?
  • Can I speak to recent graduates about their experiences? 

Ready to Get Started?

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in dental assisting, selecting an accredited program can help push you up the ladder of the field. Use the Find Schools button to explore program options that meet your individual needs. 

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