MEET THE EXPERT
- Best Online Dental Assistant Programs in 2020
- Why Study Online for Dental Assisting
- Different Types of Online Dental Assistant Programs
- Key Learnings: Online Dental Assistant Classes
- Does Accreditation Matter?
- Getting Licensed & Certified as a Dental Assistant
- Paying for Your Dental Assistant Program
- Dental Assistant Career Overview
Best Online Dental Assistant Programs Online in 2020
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 of accredited schools 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. See which schools have what you need in 2020.
|#||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||$||1||
HVCC’s one-year online Dental Assisting Certificate program helps prepare students to take on entry-level DA clinical duties such as taking and developing x-rays, sterilizing dental instruments, and assisting dentists during exams and procedures, along with non-clinical tasks such as phone communications, scheduling appointments, and handling patient payments and insurance claims. Approximately 75% of the coursework for this program is completed online. However, students are required to attend some classes and labs on HVCC’s Troy campus. Students must also complete a total of 225 in-person clinical experience hours in an approved dental practice setting. Graduates meet the requirements for becoming a New York State Licensed Registered Dental Assistant (RDA). Graduates may additionally sit for New York State’s Radiation Health & Safety (RHS) Exam and Infection Control Exam (ICE).
Dental Assisting Certificate:
|AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education|
|2||Lake Area Technical InstituteWatertown, SD||Public||$||2||
Lake Area Technical Institute’s Dental Assisting – Certified program offers students two academic options. The Associate of Applied Science in Dental Assisting degree provides students with both a strong foundation in a range of general education subjects along with the coursework needed to pursue entry-level dental assisting employment. The degree can be earned in 23 months (five semesters plus one summer session) of part-time study. Students not seeking a full degree can opt for the Dental Assisting Diploma, which requires 15 months (three semesters plus one summer session) of part-time study. The curriculums of both options consist of a combination on online courses, on-campus labs (12 days total each semester on LATI’s Watertown, South Dakota campus), and 300 clinical experience hours completed in a program-approved dental office.
AAS in Dental Assisting:
Dental Assisting Diploma:
|AccreditationHigher Learning Commission|
|3||Monroe Community CollegeRochester, NY||Public||$||1||
Monroe Community College offers a unique Dental Assisting Rapid Track (DART) Certificate program designed specifically for currently-employed students working under the sponsorship of a practicing dentist in a private practice, hospital or clinic setting. All didactic coursework is completed 100% online. However, students are required to complete a minimum of 500 clinical experience hours with the sponsoring dentist at their current places of employment. Through this combination of online and in-person training, students develop a range of relevant skills, including chairside dental assisting procedures, radiographic techniques, infection control procedures, working with dental materials, and more. Students also receive coursework in subjects that include biomedical sciences, oral histology, and the legal and ethical aspects of dental assisting practice.
Dental Assisting Rapid Track (DART) Certificate:
|AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education|
|4||Carrington CollegeSacramento, CA||Private, For-Profit||N/A||1||
Carrington College offers a blended (online/on-campus) formatted version of its Dental Assisting Certificate program through select campuses in Arizona (Mesa, Phoenix, Tucson, Glendale Learning Center), California (Citrus Heights, Pleasant Hill, Sacramento, San Jose, San Leandro, Stockton) and Washington State (Spokane). Most didactic coursework is completed online with additional coursework and labs taken on the student’s campus of choice. Students also complete an in-person 180-hour externship allowing them to gain hands-on experience in a real-world dental practice environment.
Students in some locations may be able to apply all of the credits from this program to the requirements for an Associate of Applied Science degree at Carrington.
Dental Assisting Certificate:
|AccreditationWestern Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges|
|5||Ozarks Technical Community CollegeSpringfield, MO||Public||$||2||
Ozarks Technical Community College offers two options for individuals interested in careers in dental assisting. OTCC’s Associate of Applied Science in Dental Assisting degree program is a two-year, full-time program combining 22 credit hours of general education and elective courses with 40 hours of dental assisting course and lab work. Students not interested in earning a full degree can opt for the Dental Assisting Certificate whose curriculum is made up of the same major-specific courses as the AAS program while eliminating the GE and elective requirements. Both programs are offered in an online/on-campus/clinical site hybrid format which consists of primarily online coursework combined with additional coursework, labs, and clinical time on OTCC’s Springfield, Missouri campus and/or dental offices in the surrounding area.
AAS in Dental Assisting:
Dental Assisting Certificate:
|AccreditationHigher Learning Commission|
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- The American Dental Association provides grants and charitable awards
- Corporations sponsor scholarships, like Tylenol’s Future Care Scholarship
- Veterans pursuing healthcare careers may find assistance through the Veterans Administration
- Students from disadvantaged backgrounds may receive financial assistance through the Health Careers Opportunity Program
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.
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.