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Blog / Career February 15, 2023

How to Become a Dental Assistant in California

February 15, 2023

How to Become a Dental Assistant in California

If you're looking for a rewarding career in dentistry, then consider becoming a dental assistant! They are essential members of the team in dental offices, clinics, and even public healthcenters. Dental assistants handle both clinical tasks (supporting dentists during procedures) and administrative duties (keeping the office running smoothly). Their focus on providing thorough and patient-centered care directly contributes to the well-being of the patients they serve.

This career guide covers the role of a dental assistant, steps to becoming a dental assistant in CA, what you should look for in a dental assistant training program, as well as how to begin your professional journey

Table of Contents

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

Along with helping patients feel confident about their smile, dental assistants provide care that supports dentists across a broad range of tasks. A dental assistant’s duties typically include:

While dental assistants are involved with the preparation of dental procedures, they are not qualified to perform certain dental procedures themselves — only dentists or dental hygienists are qualified to perform treatments involving a drill or dental prick. Permissible dental assisting duties vary by state.

Dental assistants are instead intended to support the facility holistically, meaning their work is split between front office and back office tasks (exam preparation, assistance during exams, and post-exam work).

In the examination room, dental assistants are tasked with assisting dentists by passing equipment such as composite materials, trays, curing lights, scalers, forceps, mirrors, and syringes

What Are Different Dental Assisting Paths?

It is important to note that there are multiple different types of dental assistants; the difference between them is based on level of education, licensing, and particular job functions. Pursuing additional education or certification can open dental assistants up to more professional opportunities and responsibilities.

Four common types of dental assistants are:

Learn more about the different professional paths for dental assistants in our post: DA vs. RDA vs. CDA: What’s the Difference Between These Dental Assistant Roles?.

Steps to Becoming a Dental Assistant in California

Unlicensed DA Requirements

To become an unlicensed dental assistant in California, you are required to complete:

RDA Requirements

If you are interested in becoming an RDA licensed by the Dental Board of California, there are a few different paths you can take: a board-approved education pathway, work experience pathway, or blended education/work experience pathway.

The board-approved education pathway requires you to:

  1. Obtain a formal education or training from a board-approved RDA program in California.
  2. Complete a basic life support course led by an instructor approved by the ARC or AHA.
  3. Successfully pass the RDA Combined Written and Law and Ethics exam. (View an outline of the exam here.)
  4. Maintain your certification by completing continuing education units every two years and renewing with the Dental Board of California.

To view the other pathways along with a detailed list of RDA requirements, visit the Dental Board of California's website.

CDA Requirements

To earn CDA certification, the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) requires you to pass the Radiation Health and Safety (RHS), Infection Control (ICE) and General Chairside Assisting (GC) exams within a five-year period. Once earned, you are required to renew your certification annually.

While there are no eligibility requirements for taking the RHS and ICE exams, there are three different pathways to qualify for the GC exam. As outlined by the DANB, these pathways include:

  1. Graduating from a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)-accredited dental assisting or hygiene program OR holding a Registered Dental Hygienist (RDH) license.
  2. Completing at least two years to four years of dental assisting work; must be verified by a licensed dentist.
  3. Being a former CDA certificant OR graduating from/enrolling in a CODA-accredited program OR graduating from/enrolling in a dental degree program outside the U.S. or Canada OR graduating from or enrolling in a post-baccalaureate program affiliated with a U.S. or Canadian dental school that is accepted by DANB.

Do I Have to Be Certified to Become a Dental Assistant in CA?

While you are able to work as an unlicensed dental assistant, you will still be required to complete specific courses that cover proper infection control, basic life support training, and board-approved courses as detailed in the California Dental Practice Act. Without certification, you’ll be more limited in which tasks you’re permitted to perform.

The Dental Assisting program at ACC helps prepare graduates to become registered upon successful completion of the RDA examinations. As an RDA, you’ll be permitted to perform the tasks listed above along with a wide range of tasks including applying/activating bleaching agents, obtaining intraoral images for computer-aided design (CAD), chemically preparing teeth for bonding, and more.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Certified Dental Assistant?

Becoming a certified dental assistant in California generally takes between nine months to two years depending on the type of program you pursue. The Dental Assisting program at ACC prepares you to pursue the RDA credential — earning your Coronal Polish Certification and Pit and Fissure Certification — and can be completed in as little as 10 months.

What Should I Look For in a Dental Assistant Program?

With the many educational options available, finding the right dental assistant school can be challenging — so how do you determine the best fit?

Before enrolling in a dental assistant program, make sure that it meets California's dental licensing requirements. Your hands-on training plus coursework should also be comprehensive and practical enough to fit into the demands of your everyday life.

ACC offers a dental assisting diploma program that helps prepare you to pass your California dental certification exam with confidence. Under the guidance of dedicated faculty, you’ll train using the same medical equipment you’ll use in your future career.

Train To Become a Dental Assistant at ACC

The Dental Assisting program at ACC combines hands-on lab sessions with flexible online coursework, allowing you to balance your studies with other responsibilities. Your training culminates in a 160-hour clinical externship, allowing you to demonstrate and reinforce the knowledge and skills you’ve learned. The ACC program is designed to help prepare graduates to take their RDA examinations with confidence and start their career.

ACC is here to help guide you through each step of your educational journey and beyond. Complete your dental assistant training at one of our convenient southern California campus locations including Los Angeles, Ontario, and Anaheim. Learn more about the program and apply today!

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