Dental Assistant/Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)

Work Activities/Work Locations

  • Dental Assistants work under the direct supervision of a Dentist.
  • The tasks that a Dental Assistant perform are the most varied in the dental office.
  • Perform a variety of duties including: chair-side assisting, dental office procedures, and dental radiography.
  • The chair-side dental assistant assists the Dentist during patient care. Duties in this role may include, but are not limited to: preparing patients for treatment, operatory maintenance, oral evacuation, identification and transfer of dental instruments, matrix band assembly, anesthetic syringe assembly, fluoride application, exposure and processing of radiographs, and mixing dental materials.
  • In the role of receptionist/office assistant, duties may include recall systems, appointment scheduling, filing, maintaining patient records, dental insurance, financial arrangements and collection, and answering telephones.
  • Dental Assistants work primarily in general dental offices. Can also find employment with federal agencies such as Veteran’s Administration, United States Public Health Services, the Armed Forces or state, county, or city health facilities. There is some opportunity to work in dental labs, hospitals and insurance companies.

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Dental Assistants like working with people.
  • Attributes should include being neat, well-groomed in appearance, conscientious in work habits, and have good interpersonal skills.
  • Need strong communication skills, enjoy working with your hands as well as your mind, and want a career with responsibility.
  • Do not like the risk of contracting contagious diseases.

 Education: 6 months – 2 years

 Patient Interaction: High

 Physical Activity: Medium

 Salary: $35,730

 Job Growth: Medium

Getting Started

  • High School Courses

    Helpful high school courses would include accounting, biology, chemistry, health, office practices, computer applications, and medical terminology.

  • Education and Training
    • Northcentral Technical College (NTC) offers a less than one year Technical Diploma, 16-credit program. Usually completed in one semester followed by a clinical experience. Prerequisite for this clinical experience is a certificate in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
    • Milwaukee Area Technical College (MACT) offers a one-semester plus two-week, 16-credit technical diploma program. Courses in the curriculum combine academic and laboratory competencies. A 128 hour clinical experience teaches techniques. Prerequisite for this clinical experience is a certificate in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
    • Programs include classroom, laboratory, and preclinical instruction in dental-assisting skills and related theory.

    Educational Institutions

    Blackhawk Technical College
    Chippewa Valley Technical College
    Fox Valley Technical College
    Gateway Technical College
    Lakeshore Technical College
    Madison Area Technical College
    Milwaukee Area Technical College
    Milwaukee Career College
    Nicolet Area Technical College
    Northcentral Technical College
    Northeast Wisconsin Technical College
    Southwest Wisconsin Technical College
    University of Wisconsin – Marshfield
    Waukesha County Technical College 
    Western Technical College
    Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College – Rice Lake

  • Method of Entry
    • Dental Assistants usually graduate from a technical college program.
    • Individuals who complete a Dental Assistant Program accredited by the Commission of Dental Accreditation are eligible to take the Dental Assisting National Boards (DANB) and become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA).
    • Individuals who have been trained on the job or have graduated from non-accredited programs are eligible to take the national certification exam after they have completed 2 years of full-time work experience as a Dental Assistant.
    • Most states regulate the duties that Dental Assistants are allowed to perform through licensure or registration.
    • Some states also recognize passage of components of the CDA exam such as the Radiation Health and Safety exam, or the Infection Control exam for licensing and regulatory purposes.
    • State regulations vary, and some states offer registration or licensure in addition to the national certification program.
    • The state of Wisconsin does not license or certify Dental Assistants. Dentists are required to properly train AND document the training for all procedures delegated for Dental Assistants.
    • Note that although not legally required, most Dentists prefer to hire Dental Assistants who have received formal training at a technical college Dental Assisting Program.
    • Recertification is offered annually for applicants who earn continuing education credits.
  • Professional Organizations

    American Dental Assistants Association
    140 N. Bloomingdale Road
    Bloomingdale, 60108-1017
    630/994-4247 or 877/874-3785

    American Dental Hygienists’ Association
    444 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 3400
    Chicago, 60611

    Wisconsin Dental Hygienists’ Association
    6510 Grand Teton Plaza, Suite 312
    Madison, 53719

    National Association of Dental Laboratories
    325 John Knox Rd, #L103
    Tallahassee, 32303
    800/950-1150 or 850/205-5626

    American Dental Association (ADA)
    211 E. Chicago Ave.
    Chicago, 60611-2678

    American Medical Technologists
    10700 West Higgins Rd., Suite 150
    Rosemont, 60018

Career Outlook

Number Employed in 2014 (Wisconsin): 5,770
Number Employed in 2014 (U.S.): 318,800
Expected Employment in 2024 (U.S.): 377,400
Percent Employment Growth (2014-2024): 18%
Expected Annual Openings: 13,750
Median Salary in 2014 (Wisconsin): $35,730

Salary information is located at Career One Stop

Wisconsin AHEC Health Careers Information Center provides the most current salary information available from CareerOneStop. CareerOneStop will have a lapse between when the information is gathered and when it is released.

  • Dental Assistants usually work 35 to 40 hours a week.
  • They can work part-time or full time.
  • Advancement is often limited to salary increases in small offices.
  • Without further education, advancement opportunities are limited.
  • Some Dental Assistants become office managers or dental-assisting instructors.
  • Others go back to school to become Dental Hygienists.
  • For many, this entry-level occupational provides basic training and experience and serves as a stepping stone to more highly skilled and higher paying jobs.
  • In larger offices, however, they may specialize in laboratory work or become office supervisors.
  • Some assistants become sales representatives for dental supply manufactures.