What Do You Need to be a Dental Assistant? [Plus 3 Important Things to Consider!]

Dec 6, 2021

Maybe you’ve decided to pursue dental assisting, but before you decide, what do you need to be a dental assistant? Either way, let’s take a look at what skills you’ll need and the requirements you’ll need to fulfill.

1. Skills Required to Become a Dental Assistant

You’ll need a variety of skills to make it as a dental assistant, and additional abilities if you intend to specialize.


A dental assistant typically performs the following duties:

  • Preparing the work area for treatments and procedures.
  • Preparing the patient for treatments and procedures (including ensuring their comfort).
  • Sterilizing dental instruments.
  • Handing instruments to dentists during procedures.
  • Drying patients’ mouths using suction hoses and other equipment.
  • Keeping records, scheduling appointments, and other administrative duties.


If you want to specialize in taking x-rays or performing lab tasks, you’ll need further training to learn these skills.

2. How to be the Best Dental Assistant

If you want to go above and beyond, however, there’s certain soft skills you can add to your resume. For example, a dental assistant with a good attention to detail will have an easier time performing certain tasks, such as sterilizing instruments and maintaining patient records.


Dental assistants also work closely with patients and dentists, so good interpersonal skills are extremely important. Having good listening and communication skills will help a dental assistant in their interactions with patients. Empathy and compassion are also helpful, since it will help you with patients who might be afraid of visits to the dentist. 


It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with data entry and improve your organizational skills, since your dental assisting work will involve a lot of record-keeping and scheduling.

3. Requirements for a Dental Assisting License

What do you need to be a dental assistant? Let’s talk about licenses. Though you don’t technically need a dental assisting license for entry-level positions, earning a license will put you ahead of the competition. Moreover, you’ll need a license from the Dental Assisting National Board if you want to specialize. 

Complete a Dental Assisting Program

First thing’s first, you’ll need to complete a dental assisting program. These programs should teach you all the skills you’ll need as a dental assistant. Crucially, they’ll also offer the chance to get hands-on experience.


You’ll need a high school diploma or GED before you apply to these programs. You’ll also want to check the school’s course requirements and reputation for preparing students for the licensing exams. If the program’s curriculum is lacking, or its former students agree it didn’t help prepare them for the licensing exam, you might want to apply elsewhere. 


Most importantly, however, is the school’s accreditation. If a school is not accredited by CODA, then it will not fulfill the education prerequisite for taking the exam, and most employers will not accept its certifications.

Pass the Licensing Exams

To earn a certification from DANB, you’ll need to take three different exams: the General Chairside Assisting (GC) exam, the Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam, and the Infection Control (ICE) exam. In total, you’ll need to get a score of 400 (out of a possible 900) to become certified.


The RHS and ICE both have 100 multiple-choice questions and take one hour and fifteen minutes to take. The GC exam has 120 multiple-choice questions and takes one hour and thirty minutes to complete. To take the GC exam, you need to have graduated from a CODA-accredited program. Additionally, and you’ll need current CPR, BLS, or ACLS from a DANB-accepted provider.


So, what do you need to be a dental assistant? Dental assisting is a fulfilling and lucrative career. If you’re considering pursuing this career path, the first step on your journey is finding the dental assisting program. You can start looking for your perfect dental assistant program at Chattanooga College. Visit our program page to schedule a chat with an advisor today!

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