Dental Assistant Certification Options

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Depending on the regulations in place in a given state, professional certification in the field of dental assisting may be required or it may be voluntary, but it is always beneficial. For example, a 2012 salary survey conducted by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) found that dental assistants who held the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential earned more than $2 an hour more than those who did not.

The DANB, the national certification board for dental assistants, has accredited more than 35,000 dental assistants throughout the U.S., as of March 2013. It is recognized and supported by the American Dental Association, the Academy of General Dentistry, the American Dental Assistants Association, and the American Association of Dental Boards, among others.

DANB National Certification and Component Exams

DANB national certifications include:

  • Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA)
  • Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)
  • Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)
  • Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)

Each of the above named certifications consists of two or more component exams. Individuals may choose to take one or more of the component exams, and examinations may be taken one at a time or all at once. Individuals may take up to 5 years to complete all exam components to earn the CDA or COA certification, while individuals may take up to 3 years to complete all exam components of the CPFDA and CRFDA credentials.

Component examinations include:

  • CDA: General Chairside (GC), Infection Control (ICE), and Radiation Health and Safety (RHS)
  • COA: Infection Control (ICE) and Orthodontic Assisting (OA)
  • CPFDA: Sealants (SE), Topical Anesthetic (TA), Coronal Polishing (CP), and Topical Fluoride (TF)
  • CRFDA: Temporaries (TMP), Isolation (IS), Impressions (IM), Sealants (SE), Anatomy, Morphology, and Physiology (AMP), and Restorative Functions (RF)

Eligibility Requirements to Take DANB Examinations

Component exams generally have different eligibility requirements:

Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)

Dental assistants may qualify to take the CDA examinations through one of three pathways:

  • Pathway 1: Graduate of a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)-accredited dental assisting program
  • Pathway 2: High school graduate and the completion of at least 3,500 hours of approved work experience
  • Pathway 3: Graduate of a CODA-accredited DDS or DMD program or a dental degree program outside of the U.S. or Canada

Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)

Dental assistants may qualify to take the COA examinations through one of four pathways:

  • Pathway 1: At least 3,500 hours of approved work experience and DANB certification or RDH or RDA credential
  • Pathway 2: A high school diploma and at least 3,500 hours of approved work experience
  • Pathway 3: The completion of an orthodontic assistant preparation program from a CODA-accredited program and a current CDA certification
  • Pathway 4: Current COA status or a graduate from a CODA-accredited DDS or DMD program or a graduate from a dental degree program outside of the U.S. or Canada

Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)

Dental assistants may qualify to take the CPFDA examinations through one of three pathways:

  • Pathway 1: Current CDA certification and verification of competency (knowledge or performance-based) in each of the four CPFDA functions
  • Pathway 2: Graduate of a CODA-accredited dental assisting program and verification of competency (knowledge or performance-based) in each of the four CPFDA functions
  • Pathway 3: A former CDA certification holder (whose certification lapsed no more than 2 years ago); at least 3,500 hours of work experience as a dental assistant completed in the last 4 years; and verification of competency (knowledge or performance-based) in each of the four CPFDA functions

Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant (CRFDA)

Dental assistants may qualify to take the CRFDA examinations through one of three pathways:

  • Pathway 1: Current CDA certification (or lapsed CDA certification of no more than 2 years)
  • Pathway 2: Graduate of a CODA-accredited dental assisting program
  • Pathway 3: Completion of an expanded function dental assisting or restorative course or program offered by a CODA-accredited dental assisting program and at least 3,500 hours of work experience as a dental assistant

All of the above DANB certification examinations also require candidates to hold a current CPR certification from a DANB-accepted provider.

Preparing to Take DANB Certification Examinations

Because the DANB examinations require different training, education, and experience in the field of dental assisting, preparation for these examinations therefore varies. However, dental assistants who want to prepare to take an examination should:

  • Review the examination blueprint: DANB provides examination blueprints as to allow test takers to best prepare to take DANB examinations. Through examination of the specific DANB blueprint topics, test takers are able to identify areas that may need further study.
  • Consider utilizing study materials: Many dental assisting programs provide information about DANB certification, both through coursework and course materials. Further, the DALE Foundation (the official DANB affiliate) provides a number of online, interactive courses and study aids that may provide dental assistants with a wealth of resources when studying for a DANB examination.

An application packet must be completed to take one of the DANB component examinations. An application packet provides test takers with all necessary instructions to successfully complete the application process and interpret their test results.

The application packet includes information on:

  • Eligibility requirements
  • What to expect during and after the examination
  • Information about renewing the certification

All application packets can be found on the DANB website.

Why Earn a DANB Certification?

In addition to displaying a commitment to lifelong learning in medical assisting, a DANB certification may allow dental assistants to enjoy a competitive edge over others in their profession. Dental assistants with DANB certification may enhance their reputation, credibility, and their dental team’s level of competency.

The DANB reports that dental assistants who hold DANB certification earn more than their uncertified counterparts. It may also open up more career opportunities, provide more opportunities for advancement, and allow dental assistants to perform expanded functions and additional duties.

Finally, DANB certification and competency examinations are required or recognized by 38 states, including the District of Columbia.

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