How to be a registered dental assistant

Dental assistants help the dentist take care of patients. It is a good entry level job and there are usually many positions open. Find out how to be a registered dental assistant.

Registered dental assistants with a patient

A career is dental health is a good choice if you are interested in helping people and in health care. There is more demand for dental health workers than there are trained people to fill the jobs, so it provides job security. One of the easier jobs to train for in dental health is that of a registered dental assistant.

Job duties

A registered dental assistant is an important member of the dental team. He or she supports the dentist and office staff. Dental assistant make appointments for patients scheduling and keep patient records. They help the dentist while he or she is seeing patients. They pass tools, get X-rays, and make sure the patient is comfortable. Watch a video about what a registered dental assistant does.


Most dental assistants will work at a dentist’s office that may have many dentists or just one. Other dental assistants will work at a medical center, where dentists are part of a bigger healthcare team.


Becoming a registered dental assistant can be rewarding. You get to help people take care of their dental needs and you can make a good income. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2014, dental assistants made an average annual salary of $35,390.

Dental assisting is one of the fastest-growing careers in the United States.  The demand will keep growing, and dentists will need people to fill those roles.

Skills you will need

Dental assistants need both hard and soft skills. You need to know technical skills. You also need to know how to help patients have a good experience.

  • Hard skills: administrative skills, recording medical histories, taking x-rays, and using dental materials.
  • Soft skills: Dental assistants should have good communication skills to work alongside dentists and administrators. They must communicate professionally and kindly with patients. Some patients might be scared so you need to make them feel comfortable. This is called having a good “chairside manner”.
  • Language skills: As an immigrant or refugee, you probably speak more than one language. Your language skills are a great asset in any job! Dental offices that see lots of patients with limited English. Your language skills may help patients communicate and feel comfortable.


While few states do not require a license, most of them do. A dental assisting program can take anywhere from nine months to two years to complete, depending on whether it’s a certificate, diploma, or degree program.

Students typically complete a registered dental assistant program at either a community college or technical school. In addition to classroom teaching, most programs provide hands-on learning opportunities in a clinical setting. Coursework commonly includes:

  • Oral anatomy
  • Dental materials
  • Dental office administration
  • Dental Pharmacology
  • Dental radiography
  • CPR and First Aid


registered dental assistant top 5Certification and licensing requirements vary by state. In states where certification is necessary, students typically pass the DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination. This 320-question exam is at Pearson VUE test centers and includes the following components:

  • General chairside behavior
  • Radiation health and safety
  • Infection control

How to get started

First, do research to find out the requirements in your state and the possible schools you may attend.

|Find state requirements for dental assistants

|Search for Dental Assistant Schools

How to finance your education

Dental education can be expensive, so it’s important to plan ahead. The cost of a program can vary state to state, ranging from $850 to $7560. Some training programs can also have additional fees, such as registration exams, lab fees, and extra supplies.

Type of fee
Average cost
Registration $60
Certified dental assisting exam $125
Lab fees $560
Books and supplies $1,600

Research the school you will attend to figure out the cost. There are ways to get more money for your education.

| Apply for Federal Student Aid from the government

|Find a list of scholarships for refugees and immigrants 

Learn More

spotlightSPOTLIGHT: A former dental assistant who is a refugee from Syria donates his services to help people in need in the United States

Watch a BBC video about a mobile dental service

Remote Area Medical (RAM) travels to poor areas of the United States to give free dental care to people who cannot afford to go to dentists. This dentist from Syria (below) now living in Buffalo started work in the United States as a dental assistant. Like all RAM dental workers, he volunteers with the service to help those in need.

Registered dental assistant video image

Refugees shaking hands

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