The fact that you’ve landed on this article tells me you’re thinking about a career as a dental assistant. First off, congratulations, that’s a life-changing decision and a really sound one! Not only will you be able to help people feel good about their smiles, but you’ll also become part of the healthcare industry, which is one of the fastest growing industries in the entire world!

Now, determining your career path is half the battle. The second half is passing that final exam and getting certified.

You may be asking yourself, Which certification should I go for? CDA? DACC? DSTC?

Well, I want to stop you right there because that’s not the question you need to be asking yourself right now. Don’t worry, I’m about to step you through each of these certifications so you know what’s what.

But the REAL question you should be focusing on is, “What is the best certification training program that will get me prepared to take the exam?”

Well guess what, I’m also going to share that information with you as well. So be sure to read this ENTIRE article because I’m essentially going to cover everything you need to know to become certified and start an exciting career as a dental assistant.

Oh, before I get started, if you want to learn more about salary, benefits and job prospects for a career as a dental assistant, you can check out our full article there.  Ok, let’s dive in:

Recommended Schools

Do I Really Need to Become Certified?

Think about the last time you looked for a dentist or doctor in your local area. Beyond reading testimonials, you most likely checked to make sure he or she was “board certified.” This certification told you he or she had the necessary training to perform medical procedures effectively and safely.

Just as dentists will take the time to become certified, they hire assistants that have also taken the time to become certified because they know that’s what their patients want. They also know that certified employees are able to hit the ground running and don’t require further on-the-job training.

Without question, certification offers dental assistants potentially better job prospects, greater job security and typically higher pay!

So let’s take a look at the three certifications available to you:

Recommended Schools

CDA Certification

What does CDA stand for?

CDA stands for Certified Dental Assistant.

What is the CDA certification?

CDA certification shows prospective employers that you have obtained the skills and knowledge necessary to perform your duties accurately and responsibly.

Who offers CDA? The Dental Assisting National Board, Inc.

Founded in 1980, the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) is the national certification board for dental assistants. Having certified more than 37,000 dental assistants across the country, DANB focuses on providing credible certification programs that provide confidence to candidates and healthcare employers.

The CDA Exam

There are actually three separate components of the CDA exam. Let’s take a look at each one:

General Chairside Assisting (GC)

The exam consists of 120 multiple-choice questions and must be completed within 90 minutes. To be eligible to sit for this exam, candidates must be a high school graduate or equivalent and have graduated from a CODA-accredited certification training program. They should also have at least 3,500 hours of approved work experience. (Don’t worry, we’ll tell you exactly how you can gain this critical hands-on experience).

For more information on eligibility requirements, please see the DANB website.

The exam costs $270. Admittedly, that’s a pretty hefty fee. Don’t worry, many training programs will give you a voucher to cover this fee and we’ll introduce you to some of those programs in just a bit.

Topics on the GC exam include:

  • Patient Preparation and Documentation
  • Patient Management and Administrative Duties
  • Four-Handed Chairside Dentistry
  • Diagnostic/Laboratory Procedures and Dental Materials

Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) Exam

The RHS exam consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and must be completed within 75 minutes. Beyond being a high school graduate, there are no other specific requirements to sit for the exam.

This exam will also cost you $270, unless of course you have trained with a school that covers your fees.

Topics on the exam will include:

  • Quality Assurance and Radiology Regulations
  • Radiation Safety for Patients and Operators
  • Infection Control

Infection Control (ICE)

The exam will consist of 100 multiple-choice questions and you will have 75 minutes to complete it. The fee is $270. Beyond having a high school diploma or GED, there are no specific requirements to sit for this part of the exam.

Topics on the ICE exam will include:

  • Standard Precautions and the Prevention of Disease Transmission
  • Prevent Cross-contamination during Procedures
  • Instrument/Device Processing
  • Occupational Safety/Administrative Protocols

DSTC Certification

What Does DSTC stand for?

Dental Support Technician Certification.

What is the DSTC Certification?

This certification has been specifically designed for the entry level dental employee to help them advance to other positions in the future. Some duties performed by entry level dental assistants may be:

  • Assisting the dentist with procedures
  • Record patient data
  • Schedule appointments

Who offers DSTC? The American Medical Certification Association

Established in 2010, the American Medical Certification Association (AMCA) focuses on providing national certification exams that highlight a candidate’s professional credentials. The AMCA is committed to collaborating and actively participating in the allied healthcare industry and their certification is nationally approved and recognized in all 50 states.

The DSTC Exam

The test consists of 130 multiple-choice questions and must be completed within 2 hours and 45 minutes.

How Much Does the Exam Cost?

The exam costs $109. Again, this fee may be waived, depending on the certification training program you complete.

Topics covered on the exam

The exam will include topics such as Law & Ethics, Patient care, Process & Procedure, Chair side assisting, pharmacology, radiology and safety/infection control.

Requirements to sit for the DSTC exam

Candidates must have obtained their high school diploma or equivalent. You are also required to have completed an approved training program that covers the above topics and more.

DACC Certification

What Does DACC stand for?

Dental Assisting Clinical Certification.

What is the DACC Certification?

DACC certification tells prospective employers that you have obtained the knowledge and skills related to procedures used in assisting dentists.

Who offers DACC? The National Workforce Career Association

Established in 2015, the National Workforce Career Association (NWCA), along with over 500 college and university partners and industry leaders, has created a focused framework for assessing a candidate’s education and practical experience. The NWCA is a standout among certification organizations as it works to bring together the best minds and leaders in the industry. Obtaining the DACC certification will definitely help you stand out among the crowd.

The DACC Exam

You will have 90 minutes to answer 60 questions.

How Much Does the Exam Cost?

The DACC exam costs $199. But again, there are some excellent training programs that will cover this cost for you.

Topics covered on the exam

Topics will include:

  • General anatomy
  • Infection control
  • Assisting in dentistry procedures
  • Case histories, intake forms and insurance
  • Exposing and developing X-rays
  • HIPAA compliance
  • And more

Requirements to sit for the DACC exam

You must have obtained a high school diploma or equivalent and have completed an approved certification training program.

Choosing the Right Certification Training Program

I just shared a lot of information with you and I don’t want you to feel overwhelmed, so let’s do a quick recap.

We’ve looked at the three main certifications available to dental assistant candidates and learned about the organizations that offer each.

The DTSC exam costs less, and that certification is recognized by all 50 states. It’s top notch, and hard to go wrong with that.  The test is comprehensive, has almost twice the questions, and takes almost twice the time to complete.

The DACC exam, offered by the National Workforce Career Association, is good option as well. And, compared to some of the others, the fee is relatively inexpensive.

And finally, there was the CDA certification offered by the Dental Assisting National Board. That certification relies on a comprehensive exam that consists of three sections, and each section has its own exam, costing $270 a pop. While that might seem like a steep price to cover, if your training program is going to cover the cost, then this might be a good option for you.

Recommended Schools

So, which one of these certifications is the right one for you?

Again, that’s not the question to focus on right now. The question you should be asking is, “what is the best training program out there that will get me ready to take any one of these certification exams?”

You see the truth is, many employers will view one certification just as good as another certification. So don’t get caught up in that. Spend your time instead focusing on finding the RIGHT program that will set you up for success.

In our experience, there are a few specific criteria that make a certification program worthy of your time and money:

Solid Preparation

As I just mentioned, the right training will prepare you for ANY certification exam. So what you should focus on right now is looking for an exceptional training program that will help you pass ANY of these tests.

Take our free quiz to see what training program perks you could qualify for:

Take the Quiz! >

How Do I Choose the Right Dental Assistant program?

Easy. Look for programs that:

Are Offered by an Authorized School

Here’s what you don’t want to happen: You don’t want to spend time and money getting certified only to discover after graduation that the program you took was not an “approved” program. Unfortunately this happens to too many students. And then they have to start all over again because employers insist you be trained under and approved school.

There are so many unauthorized training programs out there. It’s important you do your due diligence and find an approved program.

Offer Online Training

Many adult students are busy working and taking care of their young families. It’s incredibly difficult for them to fulfill all of their work/family responsibilities and still get to the community college X times per week for classes. If you’re a busy adult student, you need a program that fits into your schedule. Online training allows you to study when and where is convenient for YOU.

Are Affordable!

Of course, it doesn’t really matter how convenient a program is if you can’t afford it. I’ve seen some dental assistant programs offered at universities that cost tens of thousands of dollars. Can you afford that? Not many people can. Certainly not when you have a family and other financial responsibilities. has gone ahead and found excellent certification programs that are incredibly affordable. In fact, many of the schools we’ve partnered with offer discounts and low monthly payment plans.

Take the free quiz to see if you could qualify!

Include Books in the Tuition Fee

When we think about the cost of a college education, most people focus on the tuition itself. It’s easy to forget some of those additional expenses that can really add up. For instance, textbooks can get pricey. A good certification program will include books in their tuition.

Offers an Externship

We saw that one of the exams required candidates to have obtained at least 3,500 hours of practical hands-on experience. The right training program will include an externship placement so you can get this critical experience!

Take the Next Steps to Become a Dental Assistant wants to help you get an affordable education that will set you up for an exciting and rewarding career.

That’s why we’ve partnered with schools that could meet ALL of these criteria.

Take our quiz to connect with the right certification program that matches your career goals and life situation. It takes only a couple of minutes and you could be on your way to a rewarding and exciting career as a dental assistant!

Take the Quiz! >

Also, check out this incredible Online Dental Assistant Training Program here.

About the Author
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.