How Long Is Dental Assistant School and How Much Does It Cost?

The dental assistant school prepares you to become a dental assistant, a professional who supports the operations of a dental office. It doesn’t take long and isn’t generally expensive, but let’s look at how long and how much exactly.

How Long Is Dental Assistant School? Dental assistant school takes about 6 to 12 months to earn a diploma while earning an associate’s degree takes two years. After obtaining a diploma or a degree, you’ll be able to advance your career with further training toward a Dental hygienist, and even Dentist.

How Much Does Dental School Assistant Cost? Dental assistant school costs greatly vary from $3,000 to $15,000 annually for a Diploma Program and $6,000 to $30,000 annually for an Associate’s Degree. Costs depend on your location and the type of school.

Schools usually consist of both online learning and pratical experience. Keep in mind that even though you may think it’s easier to get a diploma online, the first hand intern experience is invaluable. You’ll learn more during practical internship than during the entire course of your dental assisting program.

Dental assisting is a growing career field partly due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession, and partly from ongoing research linking oral health and general health, which will increase demand for dental assistants.

How Long Is Dental Assistant School?

Generally, it takes about 6 to 12 months to finish Dental Assistant School, but the exact time it takes will depend on the steps you take in your career. At community colleges, dental assistant school lasts at least two years, or longer.

dental assistant school graduate

There are usually two main pathways: earning a diploma (certificate) in dental assisting, or earning an associate degree. It’s also possible to hold both a degree and a certificate in dental assisting.

To be able to obtain a dental assistant certificate, you must first show that you have completed a dental assisting program, or be able to prove equivalent preparation through related career experience.

Depending on the post-secondary institution and employer, it may take anywhere from 6 months up to 2 years to finish the dental assistant program training. You can choose to complete just an educational program that takes up to 11 months to obtain a diploma and a certificate. However, you can complete two years of supervised on-the-job training as a dental assistant in some states, as well.

To be able to get Dental Assistant Certification, you need to pass several exams, such as General Chairside Assisting, Radiation Health & Safety, and Infection Control exam. The time it takes to learn, prepare and finish these exams varies.

When you finish vocational dental assistant school, you usually graduate with a diploma. At community colleges, you need to enroll in general education courses, which are of varying academic degrees. When you finish dental assistant school at a community college you could earn an associate’s degree, diploma, certificate, or even a bachelor’s degree.

Here’s a list of currently accredited dental assistant schools/programs by state.

How Much Does Dental Assistant School Cost?

Dental assistant school costs will depend on whether you’re studying to get the diploma or an associate’s degree. Diploma programs are typically available at vocational schools and cost between $3000 and $20000, while associate’s degree programs are usually available at community colleges and cost between $6000 and $50000 annually.

The cost of dental assisting programs will also greatly vary based on your location, and whether you’ll be attending public or private school. All accredited dental assisting schools will be able to issue a dental assistant certification, upon the completion of the course.

It can be difficult to pay for this and to get your finances in order. So, if you’re just starting in the labor market, and are looking to learn how to control your finances, I wrote a nice article on the best finance books to start with, so check it out.

Here’s a simple table on dental school assistant cost for a few states:

StateType of ProgramLengthAnnual Average Cost
CaliforniaDiploma/Certificate6-12 Months$3,000 - $18,000
New YorkDiploma/Certificate6-12 Months$4,000 - $20,000
FloridaDiploma/Certificate6-12 Months$2,300 - $12,000
GeorgiaDiploma/Certificate6-12 Months$2,500 - $11,000
TexasDiploma/Certificate6-12 Months$2,000 - $14,000
dental assistant

What Is the Average Dental Assistant Salary?

The average annual dental assistant salary ranges from around $37,000 up to $45,000, with some states going as low as $20,000 and some going as high as $53,000.

For dental assistants, earning a certification leads to higher pay, greater job satisfaction, and other personal and professional benefits. Certified dental assistants (CDAs) make an average of $2 more per hour than non-certified dental assistants do.

Here’s a nice table showing the average hourly and annual dental assistant salary:

Average Dental Assistant Salary

StateEmployedAverage hourly payAverage annual wage
District of Columbia540$23.66$49,220
New Hampshire1340$23.44$48,760
New Jersey11010$20.73$43,110
New Mexico2670$16.76$34,870
New York19110$18.81$39,130
North Carolina9420$20.09$41,790
North Dakota780$22.43$46,640
Puerto Rico2070$9.49$19,730
Rhode Island880$21.02$43,710
South Carolina4550$19.11$39,750
South Dakota940$18.19$37,820
West Virginia1200$15.10$31,410

(Source: American Dental Assistants Association)

This picture shows the employment of dental assistants by state:

employment of dental assistants by state
(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

There are currently 330,200 employed dental assistants in the US, with an average pay of $41,180, or $19.80 per hour. As previously mentioned, there are several possible way to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam, while in other states, there are no requirements, and dental assistants learn through on-the-job training.

Dentist assistant salary will greatly vary depending on your state, and the picture below will show you which states pay the most and which the lowest.

Here we have the average dental assistant wage per state:

Annual Average Dental Assistant Wage by state
(Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

What Do You Learn in Dental Assistant School?

Dental assistants are an integral part of a dentist’s office, helping with dental procedures and administrative tasks.

In dental assistant schools, you’ll receive training in:

  • oral hygiene techniques
  • training in first aid and dental sciences
  • tooth morphology
  • radiology
  • lab procedures
  • preventive dentistry
  • basic skills in psychology
  • dental charting
  • recording dental exams
  • preparing and recalculating instruments
  • medical and dental terminology
  • office administrative procedures
  • professionalism and compassionate patient care

Once you finish your exams you’ll be able to apply as an entry-level dental assistant in private or group dental practices, hospitals, outpatient dental surgery centers and educational institutes.

Usually towards the end of the year, and depending on your dental assistant school, you’ll be able to intern at one or several dental offices, and even a speciality office. After you graduate and after a work well done, that office might offer you a job to stay with them.

Keep in mind that you can pick up a lot during externship if you get to work in an office that lets you jump in and be hands on. Even after a 10-week course of learning, starting an externship will allow you to learn more in the first week than you learned the whole course so far.

Bottom line is, you get what you put into it, and some programs are better than others. I suggest that after reading this article, do more research into which schools are the best, but not the most expensive. Then make a decision, and go for it.

dental assistant

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

Dental assistants have an important role in a dental office, supporting dentists as they treat patients. Some of the main roles of dental assistants are:

  • Preparing patients for treatments and procedures
  • Assisting with oral surgeries
  • Sterilizing dental instruments
  • Handing instruments to dentists
  • Taking and processing X-rays
  • Maintaining inventory for dental practices
  • Scheduling patient appointments
  • Working with patients on billing and payments
  • And in some states: coronal polishing, sealant and fluoride application, and topical anesthetic application

You will learn all of this while in your dental assistant school, or program. Keep in mind that you get what you put in, and practical experience can never be replaced with an online degree.

Related Questions

How much does Dental Hygienist program cost?

According to Dental Hygienists’ Association, the average dental hygienist program cost in tuition and fees is $22,692 for an associate degree, $36,382 for the baccalaureate degree, and $30,421 for a master’s degree.

How long is the school for a dental hygienist?

Dental hygienist school typically takes three years to complete. Bachelor’s or master’s degree programs may take an additional two to four years.

  • Alex Mitch

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