The Best Online Dental Assistant Programs

TBS Staff Writers
Updated November 27, 2023
Dental assisting certificate programs online provide students with the qualifications and credentials needed to apply for roles in a variety of healthcare

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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the dental assisting field to grow 7% by 2032, meaning nearly 25,000 new jobs for dental assistants. Earning a dental assistant certificate or degree online will position you to compete for one of these in-demand jobs. An aging population led by baby boomers with good dental health helps explain the expansion of the dental assisting occupation. As business for dental offices grows, so too will the need for qualified support. Dental offices employ over 91% of all dental assistants.

Online Dental Assistant Certificate Program Ranking Guidelines

We selected these accredited online dental assistant programs based on the quality of the program, types of courses provided, faculty strength, school awards, rankings and reputation, including the reputation for providing online degree programs.

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Rankings Methodology

The Best Online Dental Assisting Programs

Oregon State University
LocationCorvallis, OR

Developed in partnership with Pearson Education, Oregon State University's school of professional and continuing education offers dozens of career training options, including a non-credit bearing dental assistant certificate online through the interactive learning management system, eCollege.

In the dental assisting program, students prepare for entry-level work in clinical chairside dental assisting. Topics covered include oral anatomy, dental operatory, tooth and oral cavity structure, and prevention of dental diseases. Although the majority of dental assisting students complete all course requirements in six months, students receive 12 months to complete their self-paced courses if necessary. Qualified students may complete an optional externship at a local dentist office. Graduates qualify to sit for Dental Assisting National Board exams on radiation health and safety and infection control.

Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis
LocationIndianapolis, IN

To earn a dental assistant certificate online from the renowned school of dentistry at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, students must complete a total of 31 credit hours of instruction over the course of two full-time semesters. Distance learning students complete most of their courses online and participate in required clinical experiences at dental offices in their communities.

Required courses include preventative dentistry and nutrition, microbiology and asepsis technique, practice management and ethics, and dental therapeutics and medical emergencies. When combined, clinical experiences and classroom/laboratory work total more than 1,000 hours of instruction. Graduates qualify to take the Dental Assisting National Board Examination to become certified dental assistants. Earned credits also transfer to several IUPUI bachelor's programs.

University of Georgia
LocationAthens, GA

In concert with Education to Go, the University of Georgia Center for Continuing Education offers a self-paced dental assistant certificate program online that students can start at any time throughout the year. Program tuition covers the cost of 150 hours of eLearning course content and all required textbooks and materials.

Admission to this open enrollment program requires no prerequisites, though students should possess proficiency in keyboarding and boast access to Microsoft software(an operating system not compatible with Apple Macintosh computers). Eight course sections cover business communication skills, records management, dental insurance processing, office equipment and inventory, and other essential, introductory knowledge for dental industry professionals. This 100% online program requires no on-site components. Graduates may pursue entry-level administrative and office management work at dental offices and clinics.

Rutgers University
LocationNew Brunswick, NJ

The administrative dental assistant certificate program, made available by Rutgers University-New Brunswick, prepares graduates to seek entry-level employment and fulfill all of the requirements of an administrative assistant in a dental office environment. Offered by the center for continuing studies in conjunction with Education to Go (ed2go), students receive an initial six months to complete the program at their own pace -- and can request an additional six months at no cost, if needed.

Upon completion of the program, students possess skills and abilities in interpersonal and business communication, patient recordkeeping and maintenance, dental terminology, insurance processing, bookkeeping and collection, and information management. Students also gain proficiency of DENTRIX® software. The cost of ed2go programs includes all course content, textbooks, and related materials. The school does not require on-site clinical experiences for this certificate.

North Carolina A&T State University
LocationGreensboro, NC

In conjunction with Health Ed Today, North Carolina A&T State University offers a dental assistant certificate program ideal for busy individuals. The program includes all course materials and textbooks in the cost of tuition, and students receive six months to complete all components at their own pace.

As an open enrollment program, prospective students face no firm admission requirements, but the school encourages learners to either pursue or possess a high school diploma or GED. Through interactive learning modules and exercises, program students gain knowledge and skills in both clinical and administrative dental assisting, including introductions to the dental office, oral anatomy, dental equipment, and tooth structure. The school does not require clinical practice hours. Graduates may sit for the Dental Assisting National Board exams on radiation health and safety and infection control.

Southeast Community College
LocationLincoln, NE

Southeast Community College consists of nearly a dozen campuses and learning centers located in Nebraska. SCC students can earn a dental assistant certificate online or on campus in as little 12 months of full-time study. Admission requirements include a minimum 2.5 GPA, completion of prerequisite courses, and submission of transcripts, a resume, and proof of CPR certification and health insurance.

A combination of clinical experiences (a total of 300 hours at a preapproved dentistry office or clinic), classroom, and laboratory instruction ensures that all program graduates qualify to take the Certified Dental Assistant Exam, ultimately leading to licensure. Students develop skills in dental health education, chairside assisting, laboratory procedures, radiology processing, management, and business office procedures.

Sinclair Community College
LocationDayton, OH

Earning a short-term dental assistant certificate online from Sinclair Community College in Dayton, OH requires the completion of only 17 credit hours. Admission to this technical certificate requires departmental approval, a 2.0 minimum GPA, and completion of a course on distance learning. Successful program graduates can pursue licensure through the Ohio State Certified Dental Assisting examination.

This hybrid program requires travel to campus one or two days a week for attendance at on-campus lab components where students put their online learning into practice -- developing and demonstrating specific dental assisting techniques and skills. Students can complete other program elements online, including courses in interpersonal communication, introduction to dental terminology, dental assisting office management, and dental assisting radiography. SCC data shows that students generally complete the program in 32 weeks.

California State University - San Marcos
LocationSan Marcos, CA

Aspiring dental professionals can choose from six dental assistant certificate programs online through the extended learning school at California State University-San Marcos. These non-credit bearing programs, available through a partnership with World Education, focus on professional development and preparation for certification and licensure examinations.

Students can complete the dental assistant program at CSUSM in as little as six months. Students complete courses in the history and legal aspects of dentistry, oral anatomy, dental equipment, and dental operation procedures. Additional program options allow students to pursue a family care specialization or participate in an externship at a local dentist office, if desired. Although programs are taken independently and self-paced, each student receives the support of a certified facilitator who can answer questions about, and ensure mastery of, course material, certifications, and the dental industry.

Monroe Community College
LocationRochester, NY

Monroe Community College, located in Rochester, NY, offers a rapid track dental assistant certificate program online exclusively for currently employed dental assistants seeking to gain professional licensure in New York State. The program combines online lectures and learning components with on-the-job clinical training under the sponsorship of a practicing dental professional.

Online courses cover subjects including chairside and speciality dental procedures, manipulation of dental materials, legal and ethical aspects of the industry, and relevant biomedical science. The program requires the completion of 15 credit hours and at least 500 on-site hours of clinical experience. Students can complete these required clinical hours in a private dental office, clinic, or hospital setting as long as a qualified dental professional provides sponsorship. Most students complete all curriculum and clinical requirements in 30 weeks.

Middlesex Community College
LocationBedford, MA

Through a partnership with online education platform, Education to Go, Middlesex Community College offers an extensive selection of continuing education courses and training programs outside the classroom. These programs provide no college credit, but the open enrollment structure allows anyone to enhance their skills for personal or professional development reasons.

Among the 300+ programs and courses are two dental assistant certificate programs in clinical assisting and administrative assisting. These self-paced programs consist of 240 and 150 hours of content, respectively, and take approximately six months from start to finish. The clinical assistant track focuses heavily on anatomy and physiology, patient care, and chairside skills, while the administrative track focuses on the operations of a dental office, including book keeping and recordkeeping, insurance processes, and interpersonal communication. Both programs offer 100% online completion, requiring no on-site components.

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Online Dental Assistant Degree Program Ranking Guidelines: We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.

Rankings Methodology

Example Courses for an Online Dental Assistant Certificate Program

Dental Materials
In this course, students study the various materials used in dentistry, both in the lab and as part of the teeth restoration process. Such materials include amalgam, ceramics (porcelain), and composite.
Dental Radiography
Students learn all about X-rays, including how they work and the proper procedure for taking them. Those earning their dental assistant certificate online learn how to read and assess radiographs for dental issues like cavities, tooth decay, and impacted teeth.
Dental Terminology
This dental assistant degree online course introduces students to the terms they’ll use to communicate with dentists, hygienists, and patients once they become assistants. Students enrolled in dental assistant certificate programs online will learn about dental anatomy, oral restoration, and dental charts, which document the health of a person’s teeth and gums.

Example Courses for an Online Dental Assistant Associate Program

Biodental Science
Students in this course learn about dental anatomy and physiology with an overview of the human skull, head, and neck. Topics include skeletal structure, teeth composition, nutrition as it relates to dentistry, and human body systems. Biodental science courses Typically, cover dental pharmacology, too.
Patient Assessment
Mandatory in any dental assistant online degree program is a patient assessment course, which instructs students on how to properly create a comprehensive dental treatment plan for patients following the oral examination. Topics include how to obtain a medical history, including risk factors, prior procedures, and any past complications.
Dental Nutrition and Prevention
Students study the impact food has on dental health. At course’s end, students should know how to classify foods according to macronutrient (carbohydrate, protein, or fat) and understand their role in oral health. Topics include nutritional deficiency, vitamins, minerals, and the causes and prevention of dental caries (tooth decay).

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Dental Assistant Program?

You can take various paths to a career in dental assisting. For states that require no formal training, those interested in dentistry can learn the duties of the occupation on the job. Most states, however, require dental assistants to obtain credentials. There are three educational paths one can pursue: diploma, certificate, or associate degree. The one you choose will determine how long before you can apply for certification and enter the field.

To earn a dental assistant certificate online, it can take fewer than 12 months. However, most programs last a year. An online dental assistant degree requires at least 60 credits and usually takes two years to complete, the same as other associate degrees. Factors that could affect program length include the number of transfer credits a student brings to the program, the number of terms per year, and whether the program is self-paced or part of a cohort where students progress through courses together.

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What Can I Do With a Dental Assistant Certificate or Degree?

What you learn from a dental assistant online degree program is very similar to that of an online certificate. The main difference is that associate degree students also take general education courses, such as English, writing, and math. Earning a dental assistant certificate online qualifies you for many of the same jobs as an associate degree, but the degree can make you more marketable. While it takes more time to complete and costs more overall, your job prospects and earning potential will increase with an associate degree.

Career Paths for Graduates of Dental Assistant Programs

In addition to being detail-oriented and organized, dental assistants are also effective communicators. With further studies, prospective dental assistant could easily pursue occupations in similar environments that seek similar qualified support, such as the medical assisting field.

Dental Assistants:
Dental assistants are responsible for taking patient X-rays, scheduling appointments, and completing general recordkeeping.
  • Median Annual Salary: $44,820
  • Minimum Education Requirements: Postsecondary nondegree award
Dental Hygienists:
Duties of dental hygienists include teeth cleaning, examining patients for signs of caries and other problems with teeth and gums, and helping patients with preventative care to provide them with a better understanding of their oral health.
  • Median Annual Salary: $81,400
  • Minimum Education Requirements: Associate degree
Medical Assistants:
Medical assistants primarily provide administrative and clerical support to medical businesses, including hospitals, clinics, and private practice. According to the BLS, more than half of medical assistants work full-time in physicians’ offices.
  • Median Annual Salary: $38,270
  • Minimum Education Requirements: Postsecondary nondegree award
Pharmacy Technicians:
Pharmacy technicians primarily help with prescription fulfillment. They gather information on prescriptions to fill, package and label prescriptions, and organize medication and supplies for a pharmacy or clinic. A pharmacy technician is the first point-of-contact for a pharmacy store.
  • Median Annual Salary: $37,790
  • Minimum Education Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent
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Transferring to a Dental Assistant Associate Program

Many who pursue a dental assistant certificate online choose to transfer into an associate program, earning their dental assistant degree online soon after. In associate degree programs, students take general education courses, which can prove valuable when it comes to boosting one’s skill set and resume.

All dental assistant certificate programs and associate degrees accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) involve laboratory work and prepare you for the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam. You’ll need this credential to help with more advanced dental assisting duties like taking radiographs. Those who transfer into an associate degree can take the exam upon graduation.

Those who learn on the job must accrue 3,500 hours of approved work experience before they can apply for the CDA certification. According to the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), full-time certified dental assistants made on average $2 more per hour than non-certified assistants. The organization’s survey also found that certified dental assistants received more benefits as well, such as a 401(k) plan, paid sick leave, and paid vacation.

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Accreditation for Certificate Programs

As noted, earning your diploma, certificate, or online dental assistant degree from an accredited program is necessary to fast-track your way to CDA certification. In general, accredited schools and programs provide prospective students with valuable consumer protection. An accredited school or program must meet or exceed the established criteria of a credible, independent organization, which has itself gained approval from the U.S. Department of Education (ED).

Regional and national accreditation refers to an institution, while specialized accreditation — like that which the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) grants — refers to a specific program. While ED recognizes all six regional accreditors in the U.S., this is not the case for all national accrediting bodies or field-specific organizations.

Given this, students should check the ED database for recognized agencies, as accreditation can impact financial aid eligibility and the transferability of credit. ED recognizes both CODA and the American Dental Association (ADA). Dental assisting students should look for CODA- or ADA-accredited programs to ensure the diploma, certificate, or degree will qualify them for the CDA exam and eventual licensure.

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Financing Your Online Dental Assistant Program

To apply for federal funds, you must submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the deadline. Among the FAFSA eligibility requirements include the criterion that students must enroll in an accredited school or program. For prospective dental assisting students, this means a CODA-accredited dental assistant degree program. Community college students likely meet this criterion as well through the school’s regional accreditation. For scholarships, make sure to research offers at the local, state, and national levels and from professional organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA), the National Dental Association Foundation (NDAF), and the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA).

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