So, you’re thinking about a career as a dental assistant.

Well, that’s awesome!

You are in good company. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the dental assistant workforce is currently made up of 332,000 people in the United States.

And don’t worry, there is plenty of room for you to find a steady job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 64,600 new dental assistant jobs are expected in the next few years.

Let us cover the initial steps on this exciting career path together so you can get a better understanding of what you’re getting into.

We are talking here about your career for possibly the next 10 years, at the very least, and even the rest of your life. That is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.

Let’s get to it then.

How do you become a dental assistant?

There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements, and dental assistants learn how to do their jobs through on-the-job training.

For more information, read How to Become a Dental Assistant.

What type of schooling does a dental assistant need?

Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. Most programs are offered by community colleges, although they also may be offered by vocational or technical schools. Most programs take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Programs that last 2 years are less common and lead to an associate’s degree. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), part of the American Dental Association, accredited nearly 300 dental assisting training programs in 2017.

Accredited programs include classroom and laboratory work. Students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. These programs also include supervised practical experience.

High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy.

Dental assistants who do not have formal education in dental assisting may learn their duties through on-the-job training. A dental assistant, hygienist, or dentist in the office teaches the new assistant dental terminology, the names of the instruments, how to complete daily tasks, how to interact with patients, and other activities necessary to help keep the dental office running smoothly.

What are the types of certifications and requirements needed to become a dental assistant?

States typically do not require licenses for entry-level dental assistants. Some states require dental assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified for entry or advancement. States may require assistants to meet specific licensing requirements in order to work in radiography (X-ray), infection control, or other specialties. For specific requirements, contact your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

States that allow assistants to perform expanded duties, such as coronal polishing, require that they be licensed, registered, or hold certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To earn certification from DANB, applicants must pass an exam called the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) test. The educational requirements for DANB certification are that dental assistants must either have graduated from an accredited program or have a high school diploma and complete the required amount of work experience. Applicants also must have current certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

How long does it take to become a dental assistant?

Most accredited dental assisting programs take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Programs that last 2 years are less common and lead to an associate’s degree.

How much does it cost to become a dental assistant?

According to, median tuition costs for dental assisting programs are:

  • In-state Public Tuition – $3,604
  • Out-of-state Private Tuition – $11,742

The fee for the DANB CDA Test is $425.

What is the DANB CDA Test?

The Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) Test is a content-driven computer-adaptive test designed to measure a candidate’s command of the skills and knowledge in all aspects of dental assisting. The test leads to a certification that is required by many employers and, where it is not required, helps an applicant stand out. The CDA Test is offered by the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB), which is the nationally recognized certification organization for dental assistants.

How many questions are on the CDA Test?

The CDA Test has 320 multiple-choice questions across three topics. Candidates have to pass all three components to pass the overall exam.

What are the Categories on the CDA Test?

The three categories of the CDA Test are:

  • General Chairside Assisting (GC) – 120 questions
    • 10% Collection and recording of clinical data
    • 45% Chairside dental procedures
    • 13% Chairside dental and laboratory materials
    • 12% Prevention and management of patient emergencies
    • 10% Office preparations
  • Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) – 100 questions
    • 26% Expose and evaluate patients
    • 21% Quality assurance and radiology regulations
    • 31% Radiation safety for patients and operators
    • 22% Infection control
  • Infection Control (ICE) – 100 questions
    • 20% Standard precautions and the prevention of disease transmission
    • 34% Prevention of cross-contamination during procedures
    • 26% Instrument and device processing
    • 20% Occupational safety and administrative protocols

How long does the CDA Test typically last?

Candidates have to finish all three components in a total of 4 hours. The time allotted for each component is as follows:

  • GC – 1 hour 30 minutes
  • RHS – 1 hour 15 minutes
  • ICE – 1 hour 15 minutes

What is the passing grade needed for the CDA Test?

The DANB scaled scores range from a low of 100 to a high of 900, with 400 being required to pass each of the three component tests. The DANB also provides you with subtest performance ratings so that you’ll know, in case you didn’t pass one or more of the tests, what areas you did well in, and which you need to continue to study for when you retake the test. Subtest scores are rated as low average, average, or high average.

How many times can you take the CDA Test?

If you do not pass all of the component exams to earn the DANB CDA certification, you only need to reapply for the component exams that were not passed. If you have failed an exam, per DANB’s retest policy you may immediately submit a new application form along with the fee and documentation (if required). State regulations may require additional coursework after failed attempts. Check with your state dental board for more information.