Are you interested in entering the world of dental care, but are unsure of where to start?

And are you also looking for a career option that doesn’t require you to burn a hole in your pocket or spend years in school?

Have you ever wondered about the friendly faces at your dentist’s office who help things run smoothly?

If you nodded yes to any or all of these questions, then we are on the same page, literally.

In this article, we are going to explore the world of certified dental assistants, who they are, what they do, if certification is really necessary, and more.

Let’s dive in!

dental students in a university

What is a Certified Dental Assistant?

First things first, you might be wondering what exactly is a certified dental assistant.

Let us answer that for you.

A Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) is a trained and certified healthcare professional who works alongside dentists and dental hygienists to provide patient care in a dental setting.

CDAs are an essential part of the dental team, assisting with various tasks to ensure smooth and efficient dental procedures. They perform both administrative and clinical duties, making them versatile and valuable members of the dental office.

Also See: What is a Dental Assistant

Salary for Certified Dental Assistant

The salary for Certified Dental Assistants (CDAs) can vary based on several factors, including location, experience, the specific dental practice, and the level of certification.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the annual salary for CDAs is around $44,820, or $21.55 per hour. Keep in mind that these figures can fluctuate significantly depending on the factors mentioned above.

The salary may be higher in areas with a higher cost of living or greater demand for dental assistants. CDAs with more years of experience and additional certifications may also command higher salaries.

Types of Dental Assistant Certification

There are several types of dental assistant certifications, each with its own specific requirements and areas of focus.

Three of the most notable certifications are the National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA), Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), and state certifications.

Let us take a look at each in detail:

1. National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA) Certification:

– NELDA is an entry-level certification offered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

– To become certified by NELDA, you typically need to pass three DANB exams: the Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam, the Infection Control (ICE) exam, and the Anatomy, Morphology, and Physiology (AMP) exam.

– NELDA certification demonstrates competence in dental radiography, infection control, and a basic understanding of dental anatomy and physiology.

Read: Dental Assistant Duties

2. Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) Certification:

– The CDA certification is also administered by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB).

– To earn CDA certification, candidates usually must pass three exams: the General Chairside Assisting (GC) exam, the Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam, and the Infection Control (ICE) exam.

– CDA certification signifies proficiency in chairside dental assisting, dental radiography, and infection control. It is a nationally recognized credential that sets a high standard for dental assistants.

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3. State Certifications:

– State certifications for dental assistants vary by location and are regulated by individual state dental boards or authorities.

– These certifications often include specific requirements related to education, training, and examination. Requirements can differ significantly from one state to another.

– State certifications ensure that dental assistants meet the particular standards and regulations set by their state to practice as dental assistants. They may involve passing state-specific exams, such as California Registered Dental Assistant (RDA), Texas Registered Dental Assistant (RDA), and so on.

NELDA Certification vs CDA Certification

NELDA and CDA certifications are two different credentials for dental assistants, offered by the same organization, DANB.

NELDA is designed for those just starting their careers and requires passing three exams on radiography, infection control, and basic dental knowledge. It’s an entry-level certification that establishes essential skills.

In contrast, CDA, which is a nationally recognized credential, covers a wider range of dental assisting duties, including chairside assistance and radiography.

It’s often pursued by experienced dental assistants. NELDA is the first step, while CDA is for those looking to showcase advanced skills. Your choice between them depends on your career goals and level of experience in the dental field.

Read Also: Dental Assistant Job Description

How to Become a Certified Dental Assistant

Becoming a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) involves several key steps, including enrolling in a Certified Dental Assistant program, gaining hands-on experience, and obtaining the National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA) certification.

Let us explain the process in three simple steps:

1. Enroll in a Certified Dental Assistant Program:

To kickstart your journey towards becoming a CDA, you should enroll in an accredited Certified Dental Assistant program.

Community colleges, technical schools, or dental assisting schools typically offer these programs. During your training, you’ll learn the essential skills and knowledge required for dental assisting, such as infection control, dental procedures, and patient care.

2. Gain Hands-On Experience:

Practical experience is very important in dental assisting. While in your CDA program, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in clinical rotations or externships at dental offices.

This hands-on experience allows you to apply what you’ve learned in real-world dental settings, gain proficiency in chairside assisting, and develop patient communication skills.

3. Obtain NELDA Certification:

The NELDA certification, provided by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), is an important credential for dental assistants. To earn the NELDA certification, you must pass three DANB exams, which include the Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam, the Infection Control (ICE) exam, and the Anatomy, Morphology, and Physiology (AMP) exam. This certification validates your knowledge and proficiency in radiography, infection control, and dental anatomy.

dental assistant qualification.

Certified Dental Assistant vs. Registered Dental Assistant

Even though both the terms sound relatively similar, there are quite contrasting differences between the two.

Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) and Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) are both valuable credentials for dental assistants, but they differ in terms of the certifying organizations and the scope of their practice.

Read: How Long Does It Take To Become a Dental Assistant?

Here’s a comparison of the two:

Certified Dental Assistant (CDA):

– Certifying Body: The CDA certification is typically granted by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), a national organization.

– Scope of Practice: CDAs have a national certification that is widely recognized and can be practiced in various states. The CDA certification typically covers chairside dental assisting, radiography, and infection control.

– Requirements: To obtain a CDA certification, candidates usually need to pass three DANB exams: the General Chairside Assisting (GC) exam, the Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam, and the Infection Control (ICE) exam.

– Versatility: CDAs have the flexibility to work in different states and often have a broader range of responsibilities, making them suitable for various dental practice settings.

Registered Dental Assistant (RDA):

– Certifying Body: RDAs receive their certification from state-specific dental boards or authorities, and the requirements and scope of practice can vary by state.

– Scope of Practice: RDAs are certified to practice in the specific state where they obtained their registration. Their duties and responsibilities may also be determined by state regulations. Some states may offer different levels of registration, such as RDA I, RDA II, or other variations, with varying scopes of practice.

– Requirements: The requirements to become an RDA can differ widely from one state to another. Typically, candidates must complete a state-approved dental assisting program and pass state-specific exams.

– State-Specific: RDAs are often limited to practicing within their registered state, and their qualifications may not be as transferable between states as a CDA certification.

Can You Work as a Dental Assistant Without Being Certified

You can start working as a dental assistant without being certified in many places. Some dental offices hire people without prior training and give them on-the-job training.

However, getting certified as a dental assistant is very important and is highly preferred by employers since it shows that you are certified and trained to handle the day-to-day tasks needed for providing optimum care to patients.

Getting certified is crucial for dental assistants, as it shows that you’re serious about your job and patient care. It can open up better job opportunities and possibly higher pay.

Certification is also essential for following the law and ensuring patient safety, especially when it comes to things like X-rays and infection control. It sets a standard for what a dental assistant should know and do.


In conclusion, becoming a certified dental assistant is a significant step in your journey to a rewarding and respected healthcare career. The path to certification involves education, hands-on experience, and meeting the standards of knowledge and practice. It not only enhances your professionalism and opens doors to more opportunities but also ensures the well-being of the patients you serve.

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