Dental Assistant Terminology, Definitions, and Acronyms

If you’re interested in becoming a dental assistant, you’ve chosen a good career path—not only does dental assisting offer good hours and growth opportunity, but you can begin your career relatively quickly. Before you get started, here are some of the most common terms you’ll need to know, as well as some of the professional organizations you’ll come across.

Dental Assistant Terminology and Definitions

Dental Assisting TermDefinition
Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)CDAs hold a voluntary national certification obtained through the Dental Assisting National Board.
EndodonticsRoot canal treatment.
ExtractionThe process or act of removing a tooth or tooth parts.
Group PracticePractice with two or more dentists.
Oral and Maxillofacial SurgeryRemoval of teeth and correction of facial deformities.
Orthodontics and Dentofacial OrthopedicsStraightening teeth with braces or other appliances.
Pediatric DentistryTreatment of children’s teeth.
PeriodonticsTreatment of gum problems.
RadiographImage produced by projecting radiation, as x-rays, on photographic film.
Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)The designation RDA is used in states with additional requirements for dental assistants.
ScalingRemoval of plaque, calculus and stains from teeth.
Solo practicePractice with only one dentist.
SuturesStitches used to repair an incision or wound.

Professional Organizations

American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA)

The American Dental Assistants Association is the national professional organization for dental assistants.

An organization of more than 10,000 members, ADAA is the oldest group in the country to represent dental assistants. Its main mission is to promote the profession of dental assisting as well as advance the careers of their members.

There are various membership levels—even dental assistant students can join—that include a number of benefits. Everything from continuing education to fellowship opportunities are available if you join the organization.

In addition to these perks, you’ll have access to the Dental Assistant Journal, which is published on a bi-monthly schedule. The journal includes valuable technical information and other professional development coverage.

ADAA is made up of local organizations and state associations. This allows dental assistants to interact with chapters near their home or workplace. Both types of groups must follow the ADAA’s bylaws and mission.

If you live in an area without local ADAA representation, you can find information about starting a chapter on their website.

Dental Assisting National Board (DANB)

The Dental Assisting National Board provides information on certification.

Some states—Delaware, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Washington—will require you to take the DANB certification exam before you can begin working as a dental assistant.

Even if your state doesn’t require certification, it can still be beneficial to earn professional credentials. According to DANB, non-certified dental assistants earn about $2 less an hour than certified dental assistants. There are two certification levels you may be eligible for:

  • National Entry Level Dental Assistant
  • Certified Dental Assistant

If your career becomes more specialized, certification is available for:

  • Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant
  • Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant

What can you expect from a DANB exam? Like other professional certification tests, the questions are calibrated based on your responses. This means if you answer a question correctly, the next question will be more difficult. Answer it incorrectly and the following question is easier. Your final score is based on the difficulty level of the correctly-answered questions.

Ready to get started?

If you’re ready to start a new career as a dental assistant, getting your education is a good first step. But first, start researching accredited dental assisting schools and programs using our “Find Schools” button below.

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