The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the dental assisting field to grow 19% by 2026, meaning nearly 65,000 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.
For more degree and career info, jump to:
- What Else Can I Expect From an Online Dental Assistant Program?
- Careers With a Certificate or Associate in Dental Assisting
- Transferring to a Dental Assistant Associate Program
- Accreditation for Certificate and Associate Programs
- Financing Your Online Dental Assistant Program
Best Online Dental Assistant Certificate Programs
Online Dental Assistant Certificate 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.
1. Oregon State University
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.
Oregon State University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
2. Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis
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.
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The dental assisting certificate program holds further accreditation from the American Dental Association - Commission on Dental Accreditation.
3. University of Georgia
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.
The University of Georgia is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
4. Rutgers University
New Brunswick, New Jersey
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.
Rutgers University-New Brunswick is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
5. North Carolina A&T State University
Greensboro, North Carolina
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.
North Carolina A&T State University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
6. Southeast Community College
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.
Southeast Community College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The dental assisting program at SCC is further accredited by the American Dental Association - Commission on Dental Accreditation.
7. Sinclair Community College
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.
Sinclair Community College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
8. California State University - San Marcos
San Marcos, California
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.
California State University-San Marcos is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
9. Monroe Community College
Rochester, New York
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.
Monroe Community College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
10. Middlesex Community College
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.
Middlesex Community College is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.
11. Ozarks Technical Community College
Students can complete dental assistant certificate programs offered at Ozarks Technical Community College either through traditional classroom methods or a hybrid of online and on-campus courses. Graduates of either program qualify to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board Examination to become a certified dental assistant.
Students enrolled in the hybrid option primarily complete courses online, but they must attend some face-to-face meetings on campus in Springfield and clinical experiences at local dental offices. The 40-credit curriculum includes courses in chairside assisting, operative dentistry, dental radiology, and dental office procedures in addition to a few general education courses and open-elective options. Admission to the dental assisting program is competitive. Prospective students must complete preadmissions Bennett & Wonderlic testing, proctored by OTC testing services.
Ozarks Technical Community College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The dental assisting program is further accredited by the American Dental Association - Commission on Dental Accreditation.
12. Eastern Iowa Community College District
The Eastern Iowa Community College District, made of up campuses in Clinton, Muscatine, and Scott, offers dozens of non-degree and non-credit programs and courses through the popular, third-party online platform, Education to Go -- including an administrative dental assistant program. Students pay a single fee which covers the cost all courses and textbooks.
As the program provides no college credit, no specific prerequisites or admission requirements apply. Upon enrolling in the online program, students receive six months in which to complete all requirements, which span 150 hours of material in eight sections: the dental profession, interpersonal communication skills, records management, scheduling and recall systems, dental insurance processing, financial management, office equipment and inventory, and employment strategies. Successful completion prepares students to pursue administrative jobs in the dental industry.
The Eastern Iowa Community College District is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
13. Saint Louis Community College
Saint Louis, Missouri
Saint Louis Community College offers a one-year dental assistant certificate program online which provides students with professional proficiency in patient education and management, chairside skills, and radiographic procedures. Graduates prepare for entry-level employment on a dental health care team.
The 45-credit program consists of classroom instruction and participation in laboratory and clinical work. Four unique "Expanded Functions" courses cover techniques and procedures delegated to dental assistants by the Missouri Dental Practice Act. Three required practicums, spread throughout the program timeline, provide on-site dental office experience in roles of increasing responsibility: the first practicum as an introduction to the dental office and basic tasks, the second as an opportunity to increase proficiency, and the third requiring the student to assume all responsibilities of a dental assistant.
Saint Louis Community College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
14. Hudson Valley Community College
Troy, New York
The Dental Hygiene Department of Hudson Valley Community College offers a dental assistant certificate online, ideal for individuals who wish to enter the workforce immediately following graduation. Program courses satisfy all New York State requirements for aspiring licensed registered dental assistants, and students can complete the entire program in as little as one year.
Program applicants must possess current CPR certification. Upon acceptance, students complete 27 credits in courses designed to introduce them to the dental industry and workplace expectations. Major course subjects covered include dental anatomy and embryology, dental assisting radiology, dental office procedures, and oral hygiene education and nutrition. Students also complete two clinical experiences -- one per semester -- totaling 225 on-site hours of observation, practice, and evaluation in a dental office.
Hudson Valley Community College is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
15. Texarkana College
Earning a dental assistant certificate online prepares students for entry-level work in one of the fastest-growing fields in the nation. A partnership between Texarkana College and Health Ed Today brings students access to an interactive, self-paced online program with 50 hours of instruction in clinical and administrative dental assisting. No on-site components are required to graduate.
Over a period of six months (with some extensions granted to students), learners complete non-credit courses at their own pace, developing their introductory knowledge of key areas, including history of the dental industry, anatomy and structure of the oral cavity and teeth, legal policies and issues in dentistry, dental equipment usage, and sterilization procedures. One flat price covers the cost of course content, materials, and textbooks.
Texarkana College is regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Best Online Dental Assistant Associate Program
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.
1. Ozarks Technical Community College
Ozarks Technical Community College offers a dental assistant degree online through its dental assisting program. This program provides instruction in health science fundamentals and the training necessary to perform the dental assistant tasks that Missouri’s Dental Practice Act specifies. Learners can enroll in the school’s hybrid program, which primarily delivers instruction online but also mandates some in-person coursework to fulfill lab and clinical requirements. Students may complete these requirements either on campus in Springfield or at an area dental office.
Classes examine dental language, infection control, chairside assisting, and dental radiology. In total, this online dental assistant degree requires 62 credits. Students acquire the abilities to comprehend and evaluate patient clinical data while ensuring they demonstrate the technical proficiency the profession demands. Program graduates qualify for positions such as orthodontic assistant, oral surgery assistant, and dental office manager. They should also display an interest in continuing education and community service.
Ozarks Technical Community College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. The dental assisting program is fully accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Dental Assistant Program?
Example Courses for an Online Dental Assistant Certificate Program
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.
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.
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
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.
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 or not the program is self-paced or part of a cohort where students progress through courses together.
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 a medical assistants.
Dental assistants are responsible for taking patient X-rays, scheduling appointments, and completing general recordkeeping.
- Median Annual Salary: $37,630
- Minimum Education Requirements: Postsecondary nondegree award
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: $74,070
- Minimum Education Requirements: Associate degree
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: $32,480
- Minimum Education Requirements: Postsecondary nondegree award
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: $31,750
- Minimum Education Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent
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 in 2017. 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.
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.
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).