Getting Certified as a Dental Assistant

Are you considering a future as a dental assistant? You’ll need certification before you start applying for jobs, so consider this your how-to guide for becoming a well-trained, well-qualified dental assistant.


All prospective dental assistants will require a high school diploma or GED. Depending on the state, you might also need to complete a certified dental assistant program offered at your local community college. These programs take 1-2 years to finish and will cover a variety of topics, including anatomy, biology and even chemistry.

You’ll also need to make sure that the program is legally accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). When searching for a school, look for the seal of approval from the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), a subset of the ADA.


Exams to become a dental assistant are administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). There are four varieties available depending on the type of work you’d like to do or the title you’d like to hold:

Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)
Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)
Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)
Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA)

Some exams are broken into “component” parts that can be taken separately. For example, you can take the exam on sealants before taking the exam on coronal polishing. Just be sure to watch the clock: To obtain your certification, you’ll need to finish all exam components within 3-5 years.

Some places will also require state-specific exams for specialized techniques. For example, you might need to take the Oregon Clinical Radiologic Proficiency exam or the Washington State Restorative exam. Talk to your state dental board to learn more.

Further Considerations

Some states will waive the exam requirement if you have at least two years of on-the-job training as a dental assistant. Others will require certification even if you have a decade’s worth of practical experience. It all depends on local laws, so do your research to figure out what your borders require.

If you move out-of-state after obtaining your certification, remember that not all states have equivalency agreements. You may need to take additional exams after relocating in order to legally practice in your new home.

Becoming a dental assistant is hard work, but if you have skill, dedication and a working knowledge of all the red tape you’ll need to navigate, you can be out of the classroom and in a pair of scrubs in no time.