Become a Dental Assistant in California 2024: Discover the path from education to certification. Learn about roles and requirements for unlicensed, certified, and licensed dental assistants in this comprehensive guide.


Are you looking for a rewarding career in the dental industry? Becoming a dental assistant in California is an excellent option. Dental assistants play a crucial role in dental practices, ensuring patients receive quality care. However, not all dental assistant roles are equal.


In this guide, you'll learn about the steps to becoming a dental assistant in California, including education, certification, and exam preparation. We’ll start by exploring the different types of dental assistants in California and what sets them apart.


What’s the Difference Between Unlicensed, Certified, and Licensed Dental Assistants?

Understanding the distinctions between unlicensed, certified, and licensed dental assistants is essential for anyone considering a career in dental assisting. Each category has different qualifications, responsibilities, and career opportunities.


  • Unlicensed Dental Assistants: Perform basic supportive procedures under supervision; no formal education or certification required. 
  • Certified Dental Assistants: Have completed a dental assistant program and obtained specific certifications; can perform more advanced tasks.
  • Licensed Dental Assistants (Registered Dental Assistants - RDAs): Have met stringent education and experience requirements, passed the RDA exam, and can perform the most advanced duties; enjoy the highest job security and earning potential.

Choosing the right path depends on your career goals, the level of responsibility you desire, and the commitment you are willing to make to your education and professional development.


Why You Should Get Certified or Licensed as a Dental Assistant

While it is possible to work as an unlicensed dental assistant in California, pursuing certification or licensure can significantly enhance your career. Here are key reasons why you should consider going to school to become certified or licensed as a dental assistant:


  • Expanded Job Opportunities: Certification and licensure open doors to a wider range of job opportunities. Employers often prefer or require certified or licensed dental assistants, making you more competitive in the job market.
  • Higher Earning Potential: Certified and licensed dental assistants typically earn higher salaries than their unlicensed counterparts. The additional qualifications demonstrate a higher level of expertise and commitment to the profession, which can translate into better pay.
  • Advanced Skills and Knowledge: Completing a formal dental assistant program and obtaining certifications such as Radiation Safety, Infection Control, and Coronal Polishing, like the certifications offered in NCC’s Dental Assistant Program, ensure you have the skills and knowledge needed to perform a broader range of duties safely and effectively.
  • Opportunities for Advancement: With certification, you can pursue further career advancement opportunities, such as becoming a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA). RDAs have additional responsibilities and higher earning potential. The path to becoming an RDA starts with completing a dental assistant program, gaining work experience, and passing the RDA examination.
  • Job Security: Certified and licensed dental assistants enjoy greater job security. As the demand for qualified dental professionals continues to grow, having certification ensures you remain an attractive candidate for employers.

Now that you understand the benefits of becoming certified or licensed, the next step is to choose the right dental assistant program that will provide the education and training you need.


How To Become a Certified Dental Assistant in California

When selecting a dental assistant program in California for certification, consider the following factors to ensure you receive the best education and training:


  • Accreditation: Choose a program approved by the Dental Board of California (DBC) to meet state standards.NCC’s Dental Assistant Program is approved by DBC for  Radiation Safety, Infection Control, and Coronal Polishing certifications.  
  • Curriculum: Look for programs offering comprehensive courses in dental theory and practical skills, including dental anatomy, infection control, radiography, and dental materials.
  • Support and Guidance: Opt for programs that provide mentoring from experienced dental professionals and hands-on experience through internships or externships.
  • Cost and Financial Aid: Consider programs with transparent tuition fees and available financial aid options like grants and scholarships.
  • Success Rates: Research programs with high pass rates on certification exams and strong employment outcomes for graduates.

Choosing the right program is the first step toward a successful career as a dental assistant. Once you’ve selected a program, it’s important to understand the requirements and eligibility for licensure in California.


How to Become a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) in California

To become licensed as a Dental Assistant, also known as a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) in California, you must complete specific steps as outlined by the Dental Board of California. Here’s a brief overview: 


  1. Application Process: Submit an application including all required documentation and the $120 fee.
  2. Pathways to Licensure:
    • Board-Approved Education Pathway: Graduate from a Board-approved program.
    • Work Experience Pathway: Complete at least 15 months of work experience as a dental assistant.
    • Blended Pathway: Combine non-Board-approved program education with work experience.
  1. Required Courses:
    • Radiation Safety: 32 hours
    • Coronal Polishing: 12 hours
    • California Dental Practice Act: 2-hour course (within 5 years)
    • Infection Control: 8-hour course (within 5 years)
    • Basic Life Support (BLS): Certification
  1. Background Check: Obtain fingerprint clearance from DOJ and FBI.
  2. Written Examination: Pass the RDA General and Law and Ethics Written Examination.
  3. Issuance of RDA License: After passing the exam and obtaining fingerprint clearance, receive your pocket identification card and wall certificate.

For more detailed information visit the Dental Board of California's website.


Exam Preparation and Study Tips for Aspiring Registered Dental Assistant’s 

Preparing for the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) certification exam requires dedication and effective study strategies:


  • Understand the Exam Format: Familiarize yourself with the exam sections—General Chairside Assisting (GC), Radiation Health and Safety (RHS), and Infection Control (ICE).
  • Create a Study Plan: Develop a study schedule that fits your learning style, whether it's daily study sessions or intensive prep closer to the exam date.
  • Utilize Resources: Take advantage of study groups, online courses, practice exams, and tutoring sessions.
  • Self-Care: Ensure adequate rest, a healthy diet, and stress management during your preparation.

By following these steps and utilizing available resources, you can confidently pursue a career as a dental assistant in California. This rewarding profession offers opportunities to make a significant impact on patients' oral health and overall well-being. 


For detailed information on California’s RDA General and Law and Ethics Written Exam check out the DBC’s Candidate Information Bulletin


National Career College’s Dental Assistant Program

At National Career College (NCC), the Dental Assistant program provides comprehensive training that prepares students for a successful career in dental assisting. Here’s what NCC offers:


  • No Required Certification for Employment: Graduates can begin working as dental assistants immediately after completing the program, even without initial certification.
  • Board-Approved Certifications: The program includes certifications in Radiation Safety, Infection Control, and Coronal Polishing, all approved by the Dental Board of California.
  • Eligibility for RDA Examination: Upon graduation and gaining additional work experience, students are eligible to sit for the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) examination offered by the Dental Board of California. 

By choosing to attend a program like the one offered at NCC, you ensure that you receive high-quality education and training, equipping you with the credentials and skills needed to excel in your dental assistant career. For more information check out NCC’s Dental Assistant Program.