The Dental Assistant Career Path
Find the path that's right for you
As a dental assistant, you have so many options to grow professionally and expand your career. The biggest challenge you’ll have is figuring out where you want to grow. When weighing your options, it is important to keep in mind your state’s requirements and available job titles.
Once you have that covered, there are two main types of dental assistant career paths you can follow: broadening your role chairside, or shifting your focus in the dental field. As you explore each path’s potential, here are some key milestones and educational opportunities to consider.
Broadening your role
If you love patients, helping people, and promoting wellness, working chairside might be a good path for you. There is a wide array of duties for chairside dental assistants, and growth opportunities can include everything from earning your Certification to becoming a dentist, and everything in between.
- Become a Certified Dental Assistant- Earning your Certification is a wonderful way to gain recognition and increase your earning potential. If you’re considering Certification, but are unsure where to start, check out our How to Earn Your Dental Assistant Certification page for more information.
- Become an Expanded Function Dental Assistant- Expanding the functions you can perform as a dental assistant is a great way to take on more responsibilities and stand out in your office. To learn more about the different options you have, check out our How to Become an Expanded Function Dental Assistant page.
- Become a Dental Hygienist- Advancing your career to include cleaning teeth and advising patients comes with a lot of perks, including increased pay and work hour flexibility. To do this, you will need to earn at least your Associate’s Degree in Dental Hygiene, and complete licensing examinations specific to your state. For a list of relevant schools, check out the dental hygiene programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) at ada.org.
- Become a Dentist- As the most advanced role within a dental practice, becoming a dentist requires a substantial educational commitment. All dentists have to have a college degree, complete 4 years of dental school, and pass a series of state licensing examinations to get their D.D.S. or D.M.D. Some also choose to continue their professional education by completing a residency program in a dental specialty. If you’re interested in learning more about the process, check out ada.org.
Shifting your focus
If your goals take you away from chairside, there are still a lot of career growth opportunities within the dental field. You can move within your office, or help others with their career goals by becoming an educator, thought leader, consultant or speaker.
- Become a Dental Laboratory Technician- The fourth and final position within a dental practice is the technician. The technician’s responsibilities are to fill prescriptions for crowns, bridges, and other prosthetics. To become a dental laboratory technician, you will generally need to receive on the job training. You can also work towards Certification through the National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology.
- Become an Office Manager- The role of dental office manager varies widely from office to office, but generally includes handling accounting and HR duties, and keeping the office running smoothly. While no formal education is required to be a dental office manager, it generally requires extensive on the job training, and often times some continuing education. It’s increasingly common for office managers to hold a degree in business. Check out our courses specifically focused on office manager responsibilities, and talk to your dentist about the steps involved with making the transition.
- Become an Educator- Teaching dental assisting is a rewarding way to share your experience and help others. While some dental assisting educators are able to obtain jobs based on their dental assisting work experience, dental assisting programs accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) require that dental assistants who wish to work as educators hold DANB Certification and work toward and then earn a Bachelor’s Degree, to become a professional dental assisting educator. If you’re looking for more information and advice, you can network with professionals who have made the switch by creating an account.
- Become a Thought Leader, Consultant or Speaker- There’s not really a clear-cut path to pursuing roles like these. You will usually need to have extensive industry experience, be heavily involved in the dental community, and offer a specific perspective or type of information that few others are providing.