Dental assisting is one of the top jobs in the country in 2020, according to a study produced by U.S. News and World Report. The unemployment rate in the profession is just over 2 percent — an even lower rate than the February 2020 national average of 3.5 percent — and active workers reported high upward mobility and above average flexibility in their working lives.

Online dental assistant programs teach students the knowledge and skills necessary to provide high-quality help in a dental office setting. Dental assistant classes offered at multiple levels of higher education, from both career colleges and academic institutions and may or may not include general education courses.

It's important to note that dental assisting and dental hygiene are separate careers with different sets of educational requirements and job duties. The two careers may share responsibility for certain tasks, but dental hygienists typically complete longer college programs and have a greater range of clinical responsibilities on the job.

In the sections below, read about the best campus-based and online dental assistant programs, get an overview of what typical study plans cover and pick up some helpful info about the job market for graduates. Read on and find out if a dental assistant degree might be right for you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Many dental assistant schools with an online component conduct lecture-based dental assistant classes via distance education and ask students to visit campus for their clinical and laboratory coursework. Some dental assistant programs may have agreements with local clinics to cut down on the need for student travel.
Dental assistants help set up the clinical environment and handle administrative tasks like scheduling appointments and keeping records of treatments and payments. Dental hygienists have more comprehensive dental education and can perform clinical work like cleaning teeth, applying sealants and taking x-rays.
If your online program is offered by a public, non-profit technical or community college, you can expect that it won't differ much from any similar program offered on campus. Look for gainful employment disclosures when choosing your school, as well.
Accreditation is an assurance that the dental assistant classes offered at a given school has met or exceeded a national standard of quality. Dental assistant programs in the U.S. are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).

Featured Online Colleges for Dental Assisting

Choosing the right dental assistant degree or dental assistant certification can be stressful and confusing, especially if you are currently working a part-time or full-time job. Thankfully there are a number of online degree-granting and certification programs available that help make higher learning more accessible to students who want to continue learning, or might want to change careers. Getting your online dental assistant degree is easier than ever before with programs that help teach you the fundamentals and foundations of what it takes to be a dental assistant.


Lake Area Technical Institute

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Watertown, SD
School Type

LATI's Academic Focus: Celebrating over 55 years of providing college education to communities far and wide utilizing their online course options, LATI provides 30 programs including 12 online e-degrees to over +2400 students in various fields including practical nursing certifications, and emergency medical technician certifications.

Featured Online LATI Resources: LATI provides their online students with 24/7 access to thorough written documentation,audio and video recordings of lectures,as well as demonstration videos.LATI students also have access to electronic databases and ebooks to assist students with remote studies.

Dental Assisting at Lake Area Technical Institute

LATI dental assisting certified e-degree provides a unique hybrid dental assistant certification program that allows students to pursue their dentistry certification at their own pace. LATI's hybrid dental assistant program was designed to fit a part-time student's schedule providing the majority of their courses online. There are some hands-on, in-person components to the hybrid program which rounds out to around 12 on campus days per semester in order to complete the degree program. In 2018, LATI celebrated a 98 percent job placement rate for their graduating students.


Eastern Washington University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Cheney, WA
School Type

EWU's Academic Focus: Having been first founded in 1882, EWU continued to focus on its core themes of access, learning and completion. EWU has been nationally recognized for its commitments to diversity and learning and was a 2019 recipient of the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award from INSIGHT Into Diversity Magazine. EWU also provides its students with access to over 500 online courses that can be applied towards undergraduate and graduate degree granting programs as well as technical certifications.

Featured EWU Resource: EWU provides its students with the ability to set up one-on-one online advising appointments with one of their Student Success Advisors to help meet academic goals. EWU also has a number of online library and tutoring resources available to its online learning community.

Dental Assisting at Eastern Washington University

EWU Clinical dental assistant program provides EWU students with a flexible online course which teaches essential skills needed to succeed as a Clinical Dental Assistant. Clinical Dental Assistant students are also offered a 40-hour Dental Externship which can help provide hands-on clinical dental assistant degree experience for qualifying students.

Administrative dental assistant program provides its students with a comprehensive online course that focuses on teaching students the fundamentals of being a dental administrator. The course also can also provide a strong foundation for students who may be unfamiliar with dental assisting software such as DENTRIX G4.


Old Dominion University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Norfolk, VA
School Type

ODU Academic Focus: ODU is focused on student success providing its students with over 120 undergraduate degree granting programs as well as over 130 graduate studies program at the master's and doctoral levels. Students can also elect to complete an online degree in subjects ranging from business and engineering to health sciences and nursing.

Featured ODU Resource: ODU students have the ability to access courses and class archives through their distance learning portals. Additionally, ODU students have access to the Virtual Library of Virginia along with a number of other databases and electronic library access.

Dental Assisting at Old Dominion University

ODU's online bachelor's degree in dental hygiene allows students to complete their B.S. at their own pace, allowing students to maintain their current work schedules while working towards their degree. was ranked among the top 10 online bachelors of 2019 according to ODU students also have a 97 percent+ first time pass rate on National Hygiene Board Examinations and Dental Hygiene Clinical Board Examinations.


University of New Mexico-Main Campus

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Albuquerque, NM
School Type

UNM Taos Academic Focus: UNM Taos is dedicated to providing its students with affordable, high quality and rewarding learning experiences whether in-person or online. UNM-Taos offers students over 30 degree granting and certification learning pathways, focusing on Math & Science, Social Behavior & Sciences, Humanities, Art, Health Sciences, as well as Professional Skills and Community Engagement.

Featured UNM Taos Resource: UNM-Taos provides its students with a number of online resources including online tutoring that's accessible 24/7,providing live tutoring to its online students.UNM - Taos also provides its students with Therapy Assistance Online(TAO) Self-help,allowing students to access resources that promote positive mental health.

Dental Assisting at University of New Mexico

UNM dental assistant degree certificate program focuses on preparing students to be an essential part of the dental team, taking students through various techniques and processes such as taking impressions and holding dental devices. This program also has a strong emphasis on preparation for the Dental Assisting National Board certification exam.


East Tennessee State University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Johnson City, TN
School Type

ETSU Academic Focus: ETSU focuses on a broad range of undergraduate and graduate degree granting paths as well as certification programs which focus on providing their students with positive learning opportunities. They also have one of the oldest and most successful Bachelors of Science in Dental Hygiene (BSDH) programs of its kind.

Featured ETSU Resource: ETSU provides its students with specialized one-on-one academic counseling sessions focused on student success. These Student Success Specialists help students set realistic academic goals as well has providing support and more resources for students.

Dental Assisting at East Tennessee State University

ETSU's dental hygiene bachelor of science is among the oldest and most successful programs of its kind. It's also a 100 percent online program that helps students gain expertise in the foundations and skills required to be a successful dental hygienist.The ETSU DHBS program was designed for working students who require a flexible schedule while earning their degree.

Note: must have Associate Degree in Dental Hygiene from an accredited institution in order to apply.


Eastern Iowa Community College District

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Davenport, IA
School Type

EICC's Academic Focus: This colleges offers a broad range of academic programs with a particular focus on vocational and technical fields of study. EICC is comprised of 3 separate campuses which also offers a series of online dental assisting courses that can be completed from anywhere that has a reliable internet connection.

Featured EICC Resource : EICC provides its students with the option of taking some, or all of their courses online for certain programs. Students have the ability to pursue their Associate in Arts degree from the comfort of their own homes, entirely online. EICC also offers career path programs in Cancer Information Management(CIM), Health Information Technology (HIT), as well as Environmental, Health & Safety (EHS).

Dental Assisting at Eastern Iowa Community College District

EICC 's Dental Assisting Diploma program provides its students with American Dental Association (ADA) accredited courses meant to teach students the core skills necessary for a successful career in dental assisting. EICC offers both full time and part time option for its students with several courses offered online. These courses prepare students for both interpersonal and technical components to that may be required of them in the dental assisting field.


Wichita State University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Wichita, KS
School Type

WSU Academic Focus: WSU offers their students over 100 programs of study across a wide array of subjects and career paths. Students can work towards their vocational certificates in Aviation, Healthcare, Manufacturing, Business & Design, and so much more. WSU prides itself on low student to instructor ratios helping to ensure all students are supported throughout their learning experience.

Featured WSU Resource: WSU provides its students with online access to lectures, lessons, and learning materials required for student success. WSU also provides its students with a free download of Microsoft Office software to equip students with the necessary tools to complete their assignments. WSU also offers 24/7 online IT support for any questions that might arise.

Dental Assisting at Wichita State University

Wichita State University 's Dental Assisting Program helps provide students with a strong preparation for employment as a successful dental assistant. The courses offered can be applied towards a Dental Assisting Technical Certificate, or an Associate of Applied Science in Dental Assisting. The WSU dental assisting programs prepare their graduates to take the Dental Assisting National Boars examination to become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA).


Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Indianapolis, IN
School Type

IUPUI Academic Focus: Originally founded in 1879 as the college's Indiana University School of Dentistry has reported to have grown into a national leader in preparing its students for a career in Dentistry and Public Health. The school of dentistry is also where Crest toothpaste was developed.

Featured IUPUI Resource: IDPUI features an extensive library dedicated to the Indiana University School of Dentistry, which offers students full access to electronic texts, databases, and more. The library also provides research and reference assistance along with database and citation workshops for their students.

Dental Assisting at Indiana University - Purdue,University-Indianapolis

The dental assistant certificate degree offered by IUPUI is comprised of two full-time semesters which helps prepare students for a successful career in dental assisting. Students of this dental assistant course are also required to complete 300 clinical hours in order to officially complete their certificate with IUPUI.


University of Louisiana at Monroe

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Monroe, LA
School Type

ULM Academic Focus: This college is dedicated to serving its students in partnership with ed2go, offering online programs designed to help students acquire the necessary education for various occupations. ULM is focused on continuing education and also offers a broad range of technical, professional and vocational programs for its students. Many of these career path programs can be completed online, including their Clinical Dental Assisting certificate program.

Featured ULM Resource: ULM offers its student a unique online resource with their virtual career center. The ULM virtual career center exists to help support students offering guidance about the next steps that follow the completion of one of ULM's many career programs. Students of this dental assistant course can find help researching employment opportunities and even get advice on their resume and interview attire.

Dental Assisting at University of Louisiana at Monroe

ULM clinical dental assistant program offers a comprehensive dental assisting curriculum which is designed to be completed within 6 months. This dynamic dental assistant program also includes a unique 40 hour "externship" to students completing their clinical dental assistant program. This externship provides ULM students with the hands-on training and experience needed for a successful career in dental assisting.


Idaho State University

Tuition & Fees
Distance Education Participation
Pocatello, ID
School Type

ISU Academic Focus: Idaho State University (ISU) was founded in 1901 and focuses on public, research-based learning and discovery. ISU provides its student with a broad range of courses across several career paths such as agriculture, business, health, and more. ISU also provides its students with online course options in renewable energy and technology in the classroom.

Featured ISU Resource: ISU provides its students with an online career center that can be accessed remotely at the convenience of the student. The ISU career center has a number of resources available to students including online videos and seminars about resumes, interview processes and networking. Students of this dental assistant course can also schedule counseling sessions and mock interviews with ISU's career center professionals.

Dental Assisting at Idaho State University

ISU 's dental assistant program helps students learn the basic concepts and skills required for a successful career in the dental field including cavity classification, four-handed dentistry and rubber dams. Students of this dental assistant course must successfully complete the ISU dental assisting fundamentals course in order to take the ISU dental assisting course expanded functions, which helps to increase student skill sets.

Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics,

Dental Assistant Program Overview

Although each individual dental assistant program sets its own specific curriculum, a few key concepts are covered in most programs. Here's an introduction to some essential dental assistant classes:

Chairside Assisting

This course teaches appropriate clinical conduct when assisting a dentist with routine dental procedures and introduces students to suction hoses, surgical instruments and other necessary dental equipment. An introduction to common terminology used around a dental office may also take place under this umbrella, as well as methods for explaining proper oral hygiene to patients.

Some programs may split this component into two separate sections, focusing on tools and equipment in one course and procedures in another. Other programs may combine all chairside knowledge and skills into a single four- or five-credit course.


Dental assistants might not need to know as much anatomy as nurses or physicians, but it's important that they understand the underlying structures of the parts of the body they interact with on the job. Anatomy courses are foundational to the discipline, so they're often placed in the first semester of dental assisting study plans.

Different programs approach the anatomy requirement in different ways, but the general focus on teaching the head and neck portions of the five main bodily systems — muscular, nervous, skeletal, cardiovascular and digestive — remains consistent across most programs.


In some dental offices in certain states, dental assistant school graduates are qualified to take or process x-ray images of patients' teeth. Radiography courses in dental assistant programs aim to teach students how to obtain these images safely and accurately, including properly mounting x-ray film, exposing the film to radiation and processing the image for the dentist to read.

Most dental radiography courses also come with some background on radiographic theory and a strong emphasis on protecting both you and the patient from radiation exposure. At least one relevant course in head, neck, or oral anatomy may be a prerequisite.


Financial Aid for Dental Assisting

If you're hoping for some help paying for college, you're not alone. The good news is that there are several programs that can help. Read on below for more info, and take a look at our guide to scholarships for more.

Source: Scholarship directory data is copyrighted material which is reproduced on this website by permission of CollegeXpress, a division of Carnegie Dartlet. Copyright © 2020 by CollegeXpress.

Dental Assistant Job Outlook

Once you finish your dental assistant program, it can be time to head out into the workforce. If your college offers career counseling or job placement services, make sure to look into those avenues before setting out on your own.

However you choose to look for them, though, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for dental assistants to increase much faster than the national average over the next several years. We take a closer look at the two main auxiliary positions in the dental profession to help you better understand how professional dentists' offices work.

What does a Dental Assistant Do?

Dental assistants are a vital part of a working dentist's office. Their duties may vary by state, but most dental assistants maintain vital office records and interact with patients before, during or after their procedures.

Here's a list of duties you might perform on any given day as a dental assistant:

How to Become a Dental Assistant?

The most common route to a job as a dental assistant is earning a post-secondary non-degree award from an accredited community college or technical school, according to the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). More than 60 percent of all working dental assistants hold a certificate or diploma in dental assisting.

The two-year associate degree is another option, and there are some upsides to choosing the longer program. For example, associate degrees include general education courses that tend to transfer fairly easily into bachelor's programs if you choose to continue your education.

Dental assistant education requirements vary from one part of the country to another, with some states requiring that you complete a registered dental assistant exam before you can officially start working. Check with your state's Board of Dental Examiners for more details on how to become a dental assistant where you live.

What Does a Dental Hygienist Do?

Dental hygienists spend a large portion of their time working with patients, using a variety of hand tools, powered instruments and ultrasonic equipment to clean and polish teeth. The specific duties they perform can vary from state to state, but most dental hygienist positions feature the following responsibilities:

How to Become a Dental Hygienist?

In most states, dental hygienists are required to earn at least an associate degree in dental hygiene before they can be licensed to practice legally. Degree programs typically take between two and three years of full-time study and include comprehensive education in clinical methods and techniques.

The education provided in dental hygienist degree programs goes deeper into the medical specifics of dental work and oral health than that offered during dental assistant education. Here's a quick list of the type of clinical subjects that hygienist programs often cover:

All states require dental hygienists to be licensed, and licensing requirements vary by state. Standardized written and clinical examinations are a part of the licensure process in most states, and participation in continued education courses is usually required.

Dental Assistant Certifications

National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA)

Dental assistants seeking this credential must pass three examinations authored by the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB):

  • Anatomy, Morphology and Physiology (AMP)
  • Infection Control (ICE)
  • Radiation Health and Safety (RHS)

Requirements: Applicants must have completed an approved program in dental assisting and hold a credential in CPR or another life support technique.

Exam Format: Multiple choice; 75-105 questions with 75-80 minute time limits, depending on the test.

How long does the certification last?: Holders must complete continuing education requirements and recertify every year.

Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)

This certification places more of a focus on chairside assisting and also requires a mix of three DANB exams:

  • General Chairside Assisting (GC)
  • Radiation Health and Safety (RHS)
  • Infection Control (ICE)

Requirements: Candidates must hold a life support credential and have either completed at least 3,500 hours of approved work experience or graduated from a CODA-accredited dental assisting or dental hygiene program.

Exam Format: Multiple choice; 75-120 questions per test with 75-90 minute time limits.

How long does the certification last?: Renewable every year if continuing education requirements are met.

Certified Preventative Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)

This more advanced certification shows that you have expertise in assisting with preventative dental procedures. It consists of three additional DANB exams:

  • Coronal Polishing (CP)
  • Sealants (SE)
  • Topical Fluoride (TF)

Requirements: Applicants must have previously earned a CDA credential or graduated from an accredited dental assisting or dental hygiene program, as well as holding CPR or other life support certification.

Exam Format: Multiple choice; 80-100 questions per exam, with time limits of 60-75 minutes.

How long does the certification last?: One year, with a continuing education requirement for recertification.

Professional Organizations for Dental Assisting

Professional organizations can offer a range of benefits to your dental assisting career, such as access to exclusive continuing education opportunities and priority access to national events and conferences. Here's a little detail on a few organizations you might join:

Memberships are available for both professionals and students. Student memberships cost $35-45 anywhere in the country; professional membership dues vary by state.
This national association welcomes dental professionals of all kinds, from assistants and hygienists to dentists themselves. Dental assistants can join as Associate Members to make use of the NDA's career resources and mentorship opportunities.
CDAA is an example of the professional associations available at the state level. Members get a subscription to the CDAA Journal, access to continuing education units and more.

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