Dental assistants are an integral part of dental practices in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau Of Labor Statistics, there are more than 312,140 dental assistants working in the country by May 2020.
Dental assistants work under the supervision of dentists, helping with routine tasks such as patient checkups and cleaning teeth. They may be asked to perform specialized procedures, depending on their qualifications and experience levels. A dental assistant must have a high school diploma or equivalent certificate before beginning on-the-job training.
If you will seek a job as a dental assistant, here are several types of them, each with different qualifications and career paths.
Table of Contents
1. Unregistered Dental Assistant (entry level dental assistant)
Unregistered dental assistants have no formal training and perform only basic tasks such as patient checkups, taking x-rays, and providing water for patients.
They are supervised by the dentist. Unregistered dental assistance will likely remain at this level unless they later receive more extensive on-the-job training. Sometimes you might find an unregistered dental assistant in high school.
2. Dental Radiologic Technologist (Dental x-ray license)
Dental radiologic technologists have formal training related to dental x-rays, which is the only task they are allowed to perform. They cannot provide dental care, such as filling cavities or fitting dentures. In most states, dental assistants who perform x-rays must be licensed.
3. Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)
Certified dental assistants have formal training and certification. They work with the dentist to provide care for patients, such as applying the sealant to teeth or taking x-rays. They can also diagnose and treat some oral conditions and apply temporary fillings.
A CDA certificate means you’re a qualified and knowledgeable professional. While you don’t need a CDA certificate to get an entry-level job, having one puts you ahead of other applicants in the eyes of your employer.
To become a certified dental assistant (CDA), you must complete an accredited dental assisting program, such as those offered by the Commission on Dental Accreditation, and pass a national board examination.
4. Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)
A registered dental assistant (RDA) is the highest level of a dental assistant. To become an RDA, you must complete a board-approved dental assisting program and pass a national board examination. You may need work experience as a CDA first to become an RDA.
An RDA is permitted to perform many more procedures than a CDA. An RDA can:
- Diagnose oral conditions, make referrals for treatment, and perform some office procedures under a dentist’s supervision
- make adjustments to temporary restorations
- prepare amalgam for direct application or removal from tooth surfaces
- place provisional restorations on initial occlusal preparation of teeth for crowns or veneers
- place rubber dams
- place, remove or adjust orthodontic appliances other than bonded retainers
- adjust removable appliances prior to insertion into the oral cavity
- cement fixed prosthodontic appliances after polishing
- polish cast metal indirect restorations before cementation
There are different types of dental assistants depending on their levels of experience and education. Knowing the differences between each type will help you better understand what each type you’re going to be. You may be responsible for meeting the specific requirements to become a dental assistant in your state.