MEET THE EXPERT
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. (Read how we chose our schools >>)
|#||School Name||Type||Cost||Online Programs||Financial Aid||More Details||School Information|
|1||Minnesota West Community and Technical College||Public||$$$||1||64%|
The mantra at Minnesota West Community & Technical College is Learn with Purpose. Every aspect of the Minnesota West experience is designed to provide dental assisting students with the hands-on skills they need to enter the workforce and find success. It was rated as one of the top 150 Community Colleges in the U.S. by The Aspen Institute.
Minnesota West offers a 48 credit, 2-year Dental Assisting Diploma and a 60 credit Associate of Applied Science degree. Both traditional and hybrid options are available to dental assisting students. The hybrid program directly parallels the traditional curriculum and is taught by the same instructors. Students complete units of study online. Labs must be completed on campus, with one day required per week in the fall and up to 3 days required in the spring. Students also gain supervised real world experience in local dental offices as part of their extramural clinical requirements.
Graduates of either program come out prepared to sit for the national and state exams required for licensure and certification. The Library and Academic Resource Center offers students IT help, which can be especially important for online students. LARC also supports students with live and online tutoring support.
|2||Ozarks Technical Community College||Public||$||1||64%|
The selective dental education department of Ozarks Technical Community College has a sterling reputation. It is also home to the only CODA-accredited program in southwest Missouri. OTC offers traditional and hybrid formats. Both work on the cohort model and accept only 20 students per year. The small cohort size ensures students have access to instructors and can benefit from meaningful peer interactions.
OTC has an on-site dental clinic where dental assistants learn on real patients under the guidance and supervision of top flight faculty. Students in the hybrid program can complete their supervised practice hours either at this facility or at local dental offices. Hybrid students complete preclinical coursework online.
OTC’s certificate program in dental assisting stresses what it calls employability and workplace skills like writing, math, and communication. Students learn these along with the practical hands-on skills specific to dental assisting. Graduates come out prepared to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board’s Certified Dental Assistant exam. They are also eligible for Expanded Function permits. If OTC students need academic help, they have access to the Speckman Tutoring and Learning Center. OTC’s Career Employment Services Center helps students and alumni in their job search.
|3||Blackhawk Technical College||Public||$$||1||63%|
Blackhawk Technical College’s dental assistant program, which is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, trains students on the clinical, office, and laboratory skills they need to be successful in their careers. In order to teach these important skills, the program requires that students complete coursework covering dental materials, radiography, and safety practices, as well as office management and communication skills. To deepen students’ understanding of these core competencies, they are required to complete a clinical experience with hands-on training under the supervision of a dentist. By the end of their training, students are qualified to pursue not only dental assistant careers, but also dental office management, claims processor, treatment coordinator, and sales representative positions.
As of June 2019, Blackhawk Technical College charges $6,560 for this program. Students who qualify may be able to win scholarships to help pay for their education. In addition, Blackhawk Technical College allows veteran students to use their government benefits to help pay for the cost of their education.
|4||Eastern Iowa Community Colleges||Public||$$||1||54%|
Eastern Iowa Community Colleges offer a dental assisting diploma program designed to prepare students to sit for the Dental Assistant National Board examination, as well as the Iowa Board of Dental Examiners Radiography, Infection Control, Hazardous Waste, and Jurisprudence test. Students in this program are required to complete 41 credit hours in coursework that helps lay a strong technical foundation, which includes skills such as how to mix dental materials, polish teeth, sterilize instruments, and take and develop radiographs. In addition, students take courses to help them sharpen their communication skills, as well as understand the ethics of the dental field that professionals are expected to adhere to.
Eastern Iowa Community Colleges also provide certificate programs for dental assistants who want to complete further training to advance in their careers. In the community dental health coordinator certificate program, students complete eight credits of coursework that teaches them interviewing skills, the finances of a dental practice, and health advocacy. In the dental assisting expanded functions certification program, students learn advanced technical skills, such as nitrous oxide monitoring.
In June 2019, tuition at Eastern Iowa Community Colleges was $168 was per credit for in-state students and $235 for out-of-state students.
|5||Great Falls College Montana State University||Public||$||1||50%|
Great Falls College Montana State University offers a dental assistant certificate program, which takes one year to complete, to give students the skills they need to perform entry-level responsibilities in a dental office and gain an understanding of the science that professionals should know. Students can choose between a traditional version of the program, where they attend all of their classes and labs on campus, or a hybrid delivery, which allows them to use video-conferencing technology to attend lectures. In addition, students who choose to enroll in the hybrid program are required to complete laboratory work on campus every other weekend. No matter which version of the program they choose, students are required to take classes about oral radiology, chairside theory, dental specialties, and oral anatomy.
In Summer 2019, students in this program were charged $7,047, which included tuition, the cost of uniforms, laboratory fees, books and supplies, and the school’s application fee.
|6||Howard Community College||Public||$$$$||1||41%|
Howard Community College has a four-month dental assisting and radiology certificate program that trains students to get an entry-level position. In order to do this, the school requires that students take coursework about dental diseases, instrumentation, radiology, and anatomy. This is a hybrid program that combines internet instruction with labs that are conducted on campus. Also, students are expected to complete an eight-hour shadowing assignment in a dentist’s office in order to put the course concepts into practice. By the end of the program, students have completed 100 hours of training that prepares them for the realities of working in a busy dental practice.
To be admitted to Howard Community College, prospective students must be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or equivalent. As of June 2019, the cost is $2,486, which includes tuition, as well as fees for materials, practice labs, and CPR certification.
|7||Lake Area Technical Institute||Public||$$$||1||59%|
Lake Area Technical Institute’s dental assisting degree program allows students to complete most of their coursework online, while coming to campus about 12 days per semester in order to receive hands-on laboratory training. Students can choose to enroll in a certificate program that takes five semesters to complete, or an associate’s degree that can be finished in about seven semesters—both of which are completed on a part-time basis.
No matter which option they choose, students take coursework that gives them the skills they need to work in a dental office, such as taking x-rays, polishing teeth, taking patients’ vital signs, and sterilizing equipment that dentists’ use. In addition, students are required to complete 300 hours of hands-on clinical training in a dentist’s office, which helps them hone the skills they learned in the online classes.
Lake Area Technical Institute charges about $3,700 per semester as of June 2019, which includes tuition and fees. In addition, students pay $575 for books, $205 for uniforms, and $375 for tools.
|8||Monroe Community College||Public||$$||1||61%|
Monroe Community College has a dental assisting program which is mostly completed online, combining didactic and clinical work designed to prepare students to perform chair side dental assisting, infection control, radiologic, and laboratory procedures. In addition, students get a well-rounded look at what professionals do by taking coursework about dental law and ethics, pathology, and oral histology. After completing the online component of the program, students move on to do 500 hours of practical training in a dental office.
In order to be admitted into the program, prospective students are expected to have a high school diploma or GED, as well as a CPR certification. In addition, applicants must complete a physical examination. The school charges full-time students who are New York residents $2,190 per semester, and out-of-state students pay $4,380. For those who enroll part-time, tuition is $183 for state residents and $365 for non-residents.
|9||Southeast Community College||Public||$||1||39%|
The Southeast Community College diploma program, which can be completed in two to four semesters, is available in traditional and online formats. Students are required to take coursework in oral science, dental ethics, radiography, and business office communication. In addition, there are classes designed to help students gain technical skills like administering nitrous oxide. To help students understand how the concepts they learn in class are applied to the real world, the program requires that students work in dental clinics for 16 hours each week.
Southeast Community College admission requirements include completing a high school diploma or its equivalent, having a 2.5 grade point average, and scoring well on the math and writing SAT or ACT tests. Also, applicants are expected to earn at least a 2.5 in prerequisite classes, which include oral communications, psychology, business, and basic nutrition.
In June 2019, the cost for Southeast Community College’s dental assisting program was $6,405, which includes tuition, fees, and books. Additional related expenses include $300 for health insurance and a $50 to $300 fee for a student health statement, which includes hepatitis shots.
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.