How to Become a Dental Assistant in Iowa

As of 2013, Iowa was home to 2,720 dental assistants, which represents a ratio of about 1.82 dental assistants for every one thousand residents. At $35,620, Iowa ranks high in terms of average annual salary for dental assistants when compared to the nation as a whole.

The Iowa Dental Board is the state agency that regulates the professional standards for all dental health occupations in the state, including dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants.

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The Iowa Dental Board recognizes two types of dental assistant: Dental Assistant Trainees and Registered Dental Assistants. Both types of dental assistants must be registered in order to practice in the state.

Dental Assistant Trainees – A dental assistant trainee must be registered with the state of Iowa as holding dental assistant trainee status, and will practice on-the-job training underneath the direct supervision of a licensed dentist. Training may include basic dental assisting duties as well as radiography.

Registered Dental Assistants (RDA) – A registered dental assistant must be registered with the Iowa Dental Board as holding a certificate of registration. Registered Dental Assistants are able to perform extraoral services under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.

Becoming a Dental Assistant in Iowa

Dental Assistant Trainee – An applicant must attain dental assistant trainee status according to the Iowa Dental Board before working as a dental assistant trainee in any office. To attain the status of dental assistant trainee, an applicant must submit an application for approval.


To submit a Dental Assistant Trainee Status Application, an applicant must meet the following requirements:

  • Application filled out
  • Application fee paid
  • Hold high school diploma
  • Be at least 17 years of age (If not, the applicant must be enrolled in a cooperative education or work study program through an Iowa high school.)
  • Submit a Statement of Applicant (signed and dated by applicant)
  • Submit a Statement of Employer (signed and dated by supervising dentist)
  • Submit current photo

Once attained, dental assistant trainee status is valid for one (1) year. If the dental assistant trainee status has lapsed, the trainee must meet requirements for registration and attain a certification of registration to continue practicing as a dental assistant.

Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) – To become a registered dental assistant, a dental assistant trainee must be eligible for registration and go through the application process.

To attain eligibility for registration, an applicant must be at least 17 years old and qualify in one of the following ways:

  • Work in a dental office as a dental assistant trainee for at least six (6) months
  • Have six (6) months of dental assisting experience within the past two years


  • Graduate form an accredited, Board-approved dental assisting program

Once eligible for registration, a registered dental assistant applicant must complete the following steps:

  • Fill out Registered Dental Assistant Application
  • Pay application fee
  • Hold proof of Board-approved Jurisprudence study, either through an accredited dental assisting program or through Board-approved on-the-job training
  • Pass Board-approved Jurisprudence exam
  • Hold proof of Board-approved Infection Control/Hazardous Waste study, either through an accredited dental assisting program or through Board-approved on-the-job training
  • Pass Board-approved, or DANB Infection Control/Hazardous Materials, exam
  • Hold evidence of current Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) Certification from a nationally recognized provider

The Iowa Dental Board recognizes approved testing sites for the Jurisprudence exam.

A registered dental assistant will have one of three types of registration on the certificate of registration:

  • Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)
  • Qualified/Registered Dental Assistant (QDA)
  • Qualified/Non-registered Dental Assistant (XDA)

Expanded Function Training for RDAs – A registered dental assistant may pursue expanded function training, which will give the assistant the ability to perform whichever expanded functions the assistant has been trained and tested in under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist.

Expanded Functions include but are not limited to the following:

  • Placement and removal of gingival retraction
  • Placing cavity liners, desensitizing agents, and bonding systems on teeth
  • Applying periodontal dressings
  • Taking final impressions
  • Testing pulp vitality
  • Administering and overseeing nitrous oxide
  • Creating and removing provisional restorations
  • Placing and removing dry socket medications

Training must be ADA-accredited, as well as approved by the Iowa Board. Training may be administered through an accredited and approved dental assisting program, or through on-the-job training from a licensed dentist, as long as the training meets the Board’s standards of approval. To ensure the training meets the criteria of the Board, documentation of training must be maintained and held as proof.

The Iowa Dental Board provides An Expanded Functions Course Resource List for further details on course requirements and availability.

To be qualified to pursue expanded function training, a registered dental assistant must:

  • Hold current Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) certification


  • Have a minimum of two (2) years experience as a registered dental assistant


  • Have a minimum of two (2) years experience as dental assistant in a state that does not require registration

National Certification and Associations

Dental Assisting National Board CertificationThe Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers national certification exams and issues national certifications for dental assistants. DANB certification is one option to become eligible for expanded function training.

There are four options for national certification:

Each of the exams is made up of component exams, which may be taken stand-alone or as part of the full exam.

Exams are given at Pearson VUE centers. The testing centers in Iowa are located in the following cities:

  • Des Moines, IA
  • Coralville, IA
  • Davenport, IA

There are also testing centers located in the following cities, close to the boarder of Iowa:

  • Rochester, MN
  • Omaha, NE

Certification alone does not authorize a dental assistant to engage in the dental assisting practice in Iowa. Only official registration in the state allows an assistant to practice.

American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) – The American Dental Assistants Association has component state associations, and a dental assistant in the state of Iowa may join the Iowa Dental Assistants Association chapter. Joining the state chapter will give a dental assistant access to the following:

  • Continuing Education Resources
  • Networking Opportunities
  • Annual Sessions
  • Events and Resources

Though not necessary for registration, joining the Iowa Dental Assistants Association, which is dedicated to the advancement of the dental assisting profession, will give a dental assistant extra support and resources for education, credentialing, and professional actives.

Registration Renewal and Continuing Education

Registration Renewal – Registration for dental assistants expires on August 31 of each odd-numbered year, except for the renewal period following original issuing of registration. Renewal applications are mailed out to all registered dental assistants two (2) months before the assistant’s current license would expire. To renew, a dental assistant must make sure to do the following:

  • Complete and submit application prior to August 31
  • Pay renewal fee
  • Obtain 20 credit hours of continuing education covering at least the following required courses:
    • Two (2) hours of Infection Control
    • Two (2) hours of Dental Radiography training, if renewing dental radiography qualification
    • Abuse Identification and Reporting Training (must be completed within six (6) months of employment and renewed every five (5) years)
    • Current CPR certification is required for renewal, and an assistant can claim up to three (3) hours for completing a CPR course

Registration Renewal Continuing Education – A registered dental assistant must pursue Board-approved continuing education in order to renew registration. The Board does not administer continuing education itself, but it does provide a list of approved continuing education sponsors. The number of approved hours depends on the length of the course and the percentage of the course that focuses on approved facets of continuing education.

Approved Continuing Education – The courses, in order to be approved as continuing education, must be related to the following:

  • Clinical practice
  • Record keeping
  • Risk management
  • Communication
  • OSHA regulations
  • HIPAA regulations
  • Iowa Jurisprudence
  • Attending annual dental conventions

Prohibited Continuing Education – A registered dental assistant may not pursue the following courses for approved continuing education:

  • Personal development
  • Business practice
  • Government regulations (besides OSHA and HIPAA)
  • Insurance
  • Collective bargaining
  • Community service presentations

Extension or exemption for continuing education requirements may be made if an assistant submits a written application signed by a licensed physician in the following circumstances:

  • An assistant who is serving honorably on active duty in the military
  • An assistant who practices in a different state and fulfills the other state’s continuing education, licensing, and registration requirements
  • An assistant who is a government employee working outside of the United States
  • Any other Board-approved periods of active practice and absence

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