How to Become a Dental Assistant

As a dental assistant, your role extends beyond the confines of routine tasks; you become an integral part of a dynamic team dedicated to enhancing oral health and ensuring a positive patient experience. While both similar and different from a licensed practical/vocational nursing career, dental assisting can be a great entry-level healthcare role that some students may wish to consider. This comprehensive guide goes over the basics of how to become a dental assistant so you can see if it's right for you.

Step 1: Understand the Role of a Dental Assistant

Before diving into the educational requirements and certifications, it's essential to have a clear understanding of the role of a dental assistant. Dental assistants are valuable members of the dental team, responsible for various tasks such as patient care, office administration, and assisting dentists during oral procedures. Understanding the daily responsibilities and challenges will help you make an informed decision about pursuing a career in this field.

Dental Assistant vs LPNs

While similar in a few ways, dental assistants and LPNs have many varying roles, and it’s important to distinguish between them. While both professions involve patient care, they operate in distinct healthcare settings and cater to different aspects of well-being.

Dental Assistants primarily focus on:

  • Specialized oral care
  • Administrative support
  • Dental radiography and imaging
  • Patient education
  • Dental infection control

Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs) primarily focus on:

  • Comprehensive patient care
  • Wound care and procedures
  • Patient advocacy
  • Collaboration in care plans
  • Health education

Step 2: Fulfill the Educational Requirements of a Dental Assistant

To become a dental assistant, a high school diploma or equivalent is typically required. While some dental assistants learn on the job, completing a formal education program enhances your knowledge and job prospects. Look for accredited dental assistant programs at community colleges, technical schools, or vocational institutions. These programs usually take one year to complete and cover essential topics such as dental anatomy, radiography, and infection control.

In addition to classroom instruction, many programs incorporate hands-on clinical experience to ensure you are well-prepared for the practical aspects of the job. Some aspiring dental assistants also choose to pursue an associate degree for a more in-depth education and increased career opportunities.


Although certification is not always mandatory, obtaining certification can significantly boost your credentials and increase your chances of securing a desirable position. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification, which is widely recognized in the industry. To become a CDA, you'll need to pass the DANB's examination, which tests your knowledge of general chairside assisting, radiation health and safety, and infection control.

Some states may have specific requirements for dental assistants, so it's crucial to research and understand the regulations in the area where you plan to work. Certification not only validates your skills but also demonstrates your commitment to maintaining high standards in patient care.

Step 3: Apply For Dental Assistant Jobs

With your education and certification in hand, you're ready to take the next step and apply for dental assistant positions. Create a professional resume highlighting your education, certification, and any relevant experience or internships. Networking can also play a crucial role in landing your first job, so consider joining professional associations or attending industry events to connect with dental professionals.

When applying for positions, emphasize your communication skills, attention to detail, and ability to work in a fast-paced environment. Dental offices value candidates who can contribute to a positive patient experience and collaborate effectively with the entire dental team.

Last Updated/Verified: Dec 21, 2023