Inside Top Online Dental Assistant Programs

See which schools have the affordability and flexibility you need to earn a degree in dental assisting online. Review top programs and get the inside scoop on everything from application to graduation.

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Christine Lyons

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Jennifer McGivney

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Jennifer McGivney is a licensed dental hygienist with a decade of experience working in dental care. She began her career as a dental assistant before going on to earn her Bachelor of Science in Applied Science in Dental Hygiene from Loma Linda University.

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The Best Online Dental Assistant Program Online in 2023

Finding the right online program can be tough, especially with a hands-on career like dental assisting. You need to figure out which schools have the proper accreditation, the right price tag, the flexibility you need, and the career services to get you into a solid position after graduation. The following list gives you the details on program information, cost, financial aid, and more, so you can find the best online dental assistant program for your needs.

About the ranking


Base Methodology for EduMed’s 2023 Online College Rankings

1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

2. Assign Weightings

After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education.


  • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

EduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2022

# School Name Type Cost Online Programs More Details School Information Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students w/Institutional Aid Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry Accreditation
1 Hudson Valley Community CollegeTroy, NY Public $ 1

The online dental assisting program from Hudson Valley Community College is a fast and convenient way for individuals to enter the dental assisting profession. The curriculum allows for graduation in just one year. Graduates will be prepared to begin practicing as a licensed Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) in New York. Students can complete classes online, but 225 hours of clinical training must be performed in person. Students will generally progress at a full-time pace, completing 15 class credits and 90 clinical training hours during their first term. They’ll finish 12 class credits and 135 clinical training hours during their second term.

Program Highlights:

Dental Assisting Certificate

  • Credits: 27
  • Cost: $2,400/term (in-state); $4,800/term (out-of-state)
  • Length: One year
  • Mode: Partially online
Faculty Ratio

Why Study Dental Assisting Online?

Distance learning has been a solid option for dental assisting education for years; it’s just more efficient now. All CODA-accredited programs must meet the same standard of education, no matter which mode of learning they use.

Hands-on clinical practice is an essential part of every dental assisting program. Online and hybrid programs rely on local partners to provide those critical learning opportunities right where you live. Additionally, online and hybrid programs may offer lower tuition rates along with flexible, self-paced learning.

Key Benefits

Online learning allows students to get a solid foundation in the preclinical aspects of dental assisting prior to moving into a laboratory or office setting. Online learning has other benefits:

  • Asynchronous learning. Students self-pace their study of topics like oral anatomy, cavity classification, infection control, and preventive dentistry. The asynchronous nature of online and hybrid programs allows students to spend more time on topics as necessary.
  • Speed. When you’re a student, time is money. Online learning can lead to a quicker entry into the profession.
  • Flexibility. Online learning allows students to study around work and family schedules. Students already working in dental offices will benefit from learning about topics like the role of nutrition in dental health or legal and ethical issues in dentistry.
  • Cost. Tuition is often lower for online and hybrid programs.

How It Works

The hands-on nature of dental assisting means that largely all online dental assisting programs are really hybrid programs.

What is a hybrid program? It’s a blend of on-site learning and online course delivery. You can think of it this way, online coursework covers what you need to know. Examples of this kind of coursework include dental science topics like head and neck anatomy, oral pathology, dental charting, dental office management, and nutrition. In person, clinical labs and externship experiences cover what you need to be able to do. These skills-based topics include certain aspects of chairside assisting, radiology, dental materials, and infection control.

In the hybrid option, students may complete entire courses or simply part of a course online using course management software. Laboratory and clinical work is done either at local dental offices or on campus. Some dental assisting programs with greater online flexibility will require students to complete observations at local dental offices in lieu of certain pre-clinical lab work.

Different Types of Online Dental Assistant Programs

There are three types of online programs for dental assisting education: certificate, diploma, and associate degree. Graduates of any of these accredited programs are eligible to sit for national and state-level certification exams.

The quickest option is the dental assisting certificate. The dental assisting diploma is roughly equivalent, though slightly more thorough. Associate degree programs take generally 1½ to 2 times longer to complete. As you would expect, associate degrees are considered to be a significant step above certificate and diploma programs. This is due in part to degree programs including the general education requirements. In addition to providing a more well-rounded education, associate degrees can also act as a springboard to future studies in allied health and other science-based fields. Some schools specifically offer ‘bridge’ programs to associate or bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene. Associate degrees may be required for jobs in management, in certain specialties, or to become a dental assistant educator.

Your level of education can be a determining factor in the direction your career takes. Therefore, it’s important to consider your long-term goals before choosing a program. Here’s a deeper dive into each option:


Certificate programs in dental assisting are offered by community colleges as well as technical and vocational schools. These programs are specifically geared to students looking to get right out into the workforce. They can usually be completed within 9 months to one year. The certificate is a good option for students in states that require dental assistants to have completed a CODA-accredited dental assisting program. Additionally, dental assistants trained on the job can use a certificate program as a means of improving their practice or creating a pathway to career advancement.

Certificate students learn the practical skills of chairside assisting. Additionally, they get a foundational education in concepts of biomedical science including the concepts of disease and nutrition; dental science, dental materials, and dental radiology; and ethical and legal considerations of dental practice. CODA-accredited programs must include an externship. At least 50% of students’ required clinical practice must be completed in a dental office.

To be accepted into a certificate program, you will need a high school diploma or GED. You will also need to take high school science courses including biology and anatomy.

  • Pros: quick route to completion; accredited program graduates eligible for CDA exam; less expensive than an associate degree
  • Cons: additional continuing education may be required for certain national certifications, specialization, or advancement; course credits may not transfer to other programs or institutions


A diploma program is just right for students looking for a quick entry into a career. Similar in scope to a certificate program, diploma programs will strengthen their practice and provide greater career opportunities and mobility. Diploma programs generally take a year to complete. They are considered a step up from a 9 or 10-month certificate program, though not the year-long certificate programs. While the curriculum for diploma programs is quite similar to the certificate programs, increased time allows for more depth. It is important for prospective students to compare the specific course offerings before making the decision to attend a program.

As mandated by CODA, accredited diploma programs also require supervised practice, at least 50% of which must be completed in a dental office.

Prerequisites for diploma programs include a high school diploma or GED is required for admission, along with high school level science or allied health courses.

  • Pros: quick route to completion; accredited program graduates eligible for CDA exam; less expensive than an associate degree
  • Cons: continuing education may be required for certain national certifications, specialization, or advancement; course credits may not transfer to other programs or institutions

Associate Degree

Associate degree programs take the longest to complete — 18 months to 2 years. To apply, you will need a high school diploma and courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy. Aside from the time it takes to complete, the biggest difference between associate degree and diploma or certificate programs is what you study. General education courses round out career training courses. General education requirements may include humanities, science, computer literacy, and communication.

Associate degree programs are most attractive for students with longer-term goals in mind. Students often enter these degree programs as a means of advancing their careers. Courses like radiology, restorative functions, and orthodontic assisting can prepare students to sit for advanced certification exams. They can also allow students to specialize their practice. Students looking to move into dental office management benefit from courses in management skills, oral and written communication, and insurance coding. Associate degrees are a good option if a student plans to pursue dental hygiene, especially through dental hygiene bridge programs. Associate degree credits may transfer to a four-year institution.

  • Pros: more attractive to employers; more opportunity for advancement or specialization; better background in communications and management; solid preparation for move into dental hygiene or other allied health programs; possibility for credits to transfer to four-year institutions
  • Cons: longer course of study; more expensive

Key Learnings: Online Dental Assistant Classes

Dental assisting is a hands-on career. As such, dental assistants are required to master certain clinical skills. Often, these skills can be introduced through online coursework or observation prior to practicing them in a laboratory or dental office setting.

There are certain aspects of the curriculum that provide the scientific underpinning for the hands-on skills. Students must master topics of dental sciences including oral and bloodborne pathology, anatomy, microbiology, pharmacology, and nutrition. These topics are well suited to online study. Students advance through foundational courses into advanced topics like dental materials, radiology, restorative functions, and opportunities for specialization.

Course #1: Chairside Assisting

This is one of the foundational courses in dental assisting. In addition to becoming familiar with dental tools and tray set-ups, students learn how to sterilize equipment and adhere to infection control and hazard protocols. Students learn proper chairside assistant ergonomics, occupational safety requirements, and proper instrument transfer or four-handed techniques. Medical emergency procedures and protocols are covered. Students learn the basics of:

  • taking and reviewing patient medical and dental histories
  • reading and recording vital signs
  • assisting initial dental exams
  • dental charting

Course #2: Dental Science

This is another of the foundational courses for dental assisting. Dental Science introduces students to head and neck anatomy, oral anatomy, tooth nomenclature, embryology of teeth, and the physiology and morphology of deciduous and permanent teeth. This course also introduces concepts of pathology and pharmacology.

Course #3: Preventive Dentistry

One of a dental assistants key duties in educating patients on preventive dentistry. Students learn the basics of disease prevention and oral health care. Students also hone their communication skills, as well as key ideas in behavioral modification, so that they can better education their patients in these areas. They will learn about the role of nutrition in oral health, the use of fluoride, and how to teach patients to properly care for their teeth and gums through brushing, flossing, and fluoride rinses, gels, and foams.

Course #4: Dental Radiology

X-rays are an integral part of dental examinations. Students will learn the history of dental x-rays and proper radiographic procedures. They will also have classroom or online instruction on the basic principles of oral radiography, how radiographic images are formed, and common technique errors. Students learn about digital imaging, CT imaging, dental radiation risks, and clinical approaches to interpreting images.

Course #5: Dental Ethics and Law

In an ethics and law course, students learn about professional codes of conduct, regulatory laws, and ethical considerations. They may use case studies to confront topics within the course. Students learn about their own ethical and professional responsibilities to their patients, to their employers, and to the community at large.

Other courses may include:

  • Dental Pharmacology
  • Dental Materials
  • Bio-dental Science
  • Dental Office Management
  • Clinical Training/Practicum
  • Laboratory Procedures
  • Computing and Dental Software
  • Restorative Functions

Does Accreditation Matter?

The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) was set up to “maintain and improve the quality of dental assisting education.” In short, it’s a quality control mechanism put in place by the U.S. Department of Education. It protects both students and dental patients.

Be sure to vet all potential programs. Attending a non-accredited program can affect your eligibility for financial aid and certification exams that can affect your ability to practice in your state.

Why is accreditation important?

To understand why accreditation is important, it first helps to understand exactly what accreditation is. Accreditation is a peer review process. CODA appoints administrators and educators from other schools evaluate dental assisting programs based on a set of standards.

CODA makes no distinction between traditional, on-campus programs apply to online, distance, or hybrid. The same standards apply to all programs. Standards are developed and revised to ensure students get the education they need to be professionally successful. Standards also ensure that schools offering dental assisting programs:

  • Are financially stable
  • Follow an approved curriculum
  • Have appropriate staffing
  • Hire faculty with adequate education and experience
  • Offer preclinical and clinical instruction in approved facilities
  • Support students, especially those deemed “at risk”

In this way, accreditation protects the investment students are making in their education. In order to be eligible to sit for the CDA exam, dental assistants must have graduated from an accredited program. Perhaps it’s even more important to note that financial aid may not be available for non-accredited programs.

Just as standards are revised to keep pace with ongoing developments in dental care, schools must regularly renew their accreditation. This ensures students are able provide the most up-to-date and high level of care to their patients. It is in this way that accreditation protects dental consumers.

Source: Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)

Getting Licensed & Certified as a Dental Assistant

You don’t necessarily need to be certified to become a dental assistant. However, certification may play an important part of the hiring decision for offices even in states without certification requirements.

In some states, all that is required is on-the-job training and the direct supervision of a dentist. Duties in states with no or low educational requirements may be more limited than in those with educational requirements. Even in those states with lower entry requirements, dental assistants may need courses including CPR, basic life saving, and infection control courses for general practice. If they wish to perform advanced procedures such as coronal polishing, restorative functions, or radiography they may need to take courses or pass an exam in those areas.

The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers certification exams for dental assistants. Dental assistants must meet eligibility requirements to sit for the certification exams. The Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam has three components:

  • General Chairside Assisting
  • Radiation Health and Safety
  • Infection Control

In addition to the CDA exam, DANB offers four other national level certifications. Each of these certifications is made up of component exams as well. Seven states have state-specific exams to become a Registered Dental Assistant or Expanded Functions Dental Assistant. Those states are Arizona, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

Source: Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), Dental Assisting National Board

Are There Differences by State?

Yes. Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) licensing requirements vary by state just the general practice requirements do. Alabama, for example, has no licensing requirements States like Nebraska have Licensed Dental Assistant (LDA) or Expanded Function Dental Assistant (EFDA) designations instead.

Requirements for licensing generally include some combination of the following:

  • High school diploma
  • Graduation from CODA-accredited dental assisting program
  • DANB CDA certification
  • Minimum clinical work experience hours
  • CPR and Basic Life Saving courses

States may also require specific certifications for coronal polishing, radiography, restorative functions, sealants, or dental anesthesia, Check the DANB state-by-state requirements to see what is needed in your state.

Can You Receive Specialty Certifications?

Yes, there are several specialties within dental assisting. Continuing education may be required to certify in certain states or fields. Assistants may also choose to specialize after completing their practicum or clinical externship in a specialty office.

Below are five common dental assisting specializations.


Orthodontic assisting. Orthodontists use corrective devices like palate expanders and braces to help properly align teeth. In addition to assisting during exams, orthodontic assistants may take x-rays, make impressions, adjust braces, and make retainers and mouth guards. DANB offers national certification in orthodontic assisting (COA).


Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery. Also called dental surgical assistants, they assist dentists while performing procedures ranging from tooth extractions to corrective jaw surgery. There is no national certification for oral surgery assisting, though advanced training, certification, and continuing education may be required by employers.


Preventive Functions. Assistants specializing in preventive functions perform coronal polishing and apply sealants and fluoride. DANB offers national certification in preventive functions (CPFDA).


Pediatrics. Some dental offices specifically treat pediatric patients. Other assistants may specialize in pediatrics within a general dentistry office. There is no national certification for pediatric assisting, though advanced training, certification, and continuing education may be required by employers.


Restorative Functions. Many of us are familiar with the basic restorative dentistry–filling a cavity. Dental assistants also assist with major restorative procedures like inlays, crowns, dentures, and bridges. DANB offers national certification in restorative functions (CRFDA).

Paying for Your Dental Assistant Program

Tuition costs should not be a barrier to your education. The first steps to figuring out how to pay for college should be talking to a college counselor and doing a little research to explore your financial aid options.

Your next step is submitting your FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) forms, which you will need to be eligible for federal grants like the Pell Grant and Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant. Be aware that state and federal grants may not be available for students attending non-CODA accredited programs.

Here is a sampling of scholarships and grants available to dental assisting students.

Dental Assistant Career Overview

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 19% job growth for dental assistants over the next decade. This translates to roughly 46,000 average annual openings. Overall, healthcare support careers will see this level of growth. BLS predicts 22% growth for the entire field. The states that will see the greatest percentage of growth are Arizona, Maryland, and Utah. Each of these states will see over 29% job growth for dental assistants. California will see the greatest number of job openings over the next ten years, with Texas and New York coming in second and third.

There are a lot of factors driving the need for more dental assistants. As more is known about the importance of oral health for overall health, more people are seeking out regular dentistry. In some cases, improved access to health insurance also allows more people to access dental care. These trends, coupled with an increased reliance on assistants to perform tasks in dental offices support, will continue to drive the need for more people to enter this field.

Most dental assistants work in a dental office. While many work full time, nearly ⅓ of all assistants are part time. Dental assistants often have a degree of flexibility in their schedules. Some dental offices require assistants to work evenings or weekends. If you need more details, get the inside scoop on what a dental assistant does.

Key Dental Assistant Duties & Responsibilities

Just like good smile can help you make a good first impression, a good dental assistant can set a patient on the road to good oral health. While specific duties vary from state to state, even office-to-office, here are a few of the key roles dental assistants can fill:

  • Patient interaction. A patient’s first interaction with a dental assistant often comes when they setting up their appointment. Office tasks like scheduling and billing may also be handled by dental assistants. Once at the office, the dental assistant helps to ensure a patient’s visit goes smoothly. Assistants prepare the work area and help patients settle to the dentist’s chair.
  • Assisting dental procedures. During dental procedures, assistants are on hand to assist the dentist by passing instruments or drying a patient’s mouth. They maintain careful records of procedures as well.
  • Radiology. Dental assistants may develop x-rays and make impressions of patient’s teeth. These include bitewing x-rays and panographs. Some states require dental assistants to be licensed in radiologic health and safety.
  • Preventative dentistry. In some states, dental assistants are allowed to perform coronal polishing, as well as apply sealants and fluoride, and topical anesthetics. They may also talk with patients about proper nutrition for good oral health.
  • Restorative dentistry. Some states allow to practice restorative functions such as placing crowns, bridges, or implants.

How Much Can You Make as a Dental Assistant?

The median annual wage for a dental assistant in 2017 was $37,630—or just over $18 an hour. According to a survey by the Dental Assisting National Board, certified dental assistants (CDA) earned more than their non-certified peers. CDAs median salaries were $20.46 per hour. CDAs also report benefits including 401K or pension plans, paid holidays and vacations, and free dental care.

The top 10% of dental assistants earned over $53,000 a year. The bottom 10% made around $26,000. Washington, D.C. has the highest wages for dental assistants. Minnesota and New Hampshire come in 2nd and 3rd respectively.

Bottom 10% for all dental assistants $12.58
Median 50% for all dental assistants $18.09
Median 50% for CDAs $20.46
Top 10% for all dental assistants $25.54

Source: “Dental Assistants”, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Career Advancement for Dental Assistants

Some dental assistants enter the field with a plan to return to school to become a dental hygienist. Indeed, dental assisting can be a great stepping-stone for this kind of career advancement. Dental hygiene programs may offer “bridge pathways” for dental assistants. These allow dental assistants to capitalize on their work experience and education to shorten the time (and expense) it takes to become a hygienist. Additionally, some dental assisting degree programs are specifically designed to be able to transfer course credit into a dental hygiene associate or bachelor’s degree program.

Other avenues for advancement in the field of dental assisting are in dental office management or dental product sales.