Dental Assistant Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Training Info

About this article
What kind of jobs can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in dental assisting? Find out associate's and bachelor's degree requirements, online options and info on courses in dental assisting.
View available schools

Studying Dental Assisting: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

While dentists run the operations in a dental office, numerous staff members assist them with clinical and administrative duties. As a dental assistant, you may be responsible for preparing patients for procedures, sterilizing instruments, educating patients, keeping records, scheduling appointments and processing x-rays. If you're interested in becoming a dental assistant, you can pursue an associate's degree in dental assisting. However, if you want to continue your education at the bachelor's degree level, dental assisting programs are not available; instead, you can enroll in a bachelor's degree program in dental hygiene. Dental hygienists are more involved in patient care and are responsible for cleaning and examining teeth. In addition, dental hygienists must be licensed in every state, while only some states require dental assistants to be licensed or certified. The BLS projected that from 2010-2020, employment of dental assistants would grow 31%, and employment of dental hygienists would grow 38%.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to work as dental assistants Individuals who want more dental responsibilities and want to work as dental hygienists
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) Dental assistant ($35,000) *
Dental hygienist ($70,000) *
Time to Completion 2 years, full-time 4 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - About 20-24 courses
- Practicum
- About 40-48 courses
- Internship
Prerequisites High school diploma High school diploma or associate's degree
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's Degree in Dental Assisting

An associate's degree program in dental assisting combines classroom instruction, hands-on practice and experience in dental offices. In addition to administrative duties, students learn how to perform various dental procedures, including polishing teeth, taking x-rays, applying fluoride and making impressions. Students will be prepared to work in both solo and group dental offices or in dental specialty practices. Prospective students should look for programs accredited by the American Dental Association (ADA). Though an associate's degree program can be completed in only two years, it may still be overkill as most dental assisting programs take only one year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Opportunity to help improve patients' dental health
  • Both part-time and full-time positions are common
  • Faster-than-average job growth (31% from 2010-2020)*

Cons

  • Advancement is limited without continuing education or moving into a dental hygiene career
  • Depending on your office's hours of operation, weekend and evening work may be required
  • May be exposed to infectious diseases

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Courses and Requirements

Students in dental assisting associate's degree programs must complete both general education requirements and dental assisting courses. Dental assisting courses cover topics involving dental sciences, dental materials, dental radiology and dental management. You'll also learn about dental sealants, implants and epidemiology. The program also requires you to complete a practicum in an office setting and work as part of a dental team. Even though you'd complete formal training through your associate's degree program, employers often require that you also complete on-the-job training, since each dental office has its own way of doing things.

Online Course Options

If you're interested in earning your dental assisting associate's degree online, you will find colleges offering the program in a hybrid format. Hybrid programs allow students to complete didactic courses online, while laboratory courses will need to be completed on-campus. Students will still need to participate in a practicum at a dental office to graduate from the program as well.

How to Stand Out

Even if your state does not require licensure or certification, you could still earn voluntary certification to set yourself apart from your peers. Certification demonstrates a certain level of knowledge and skill in the field. Certification is offered through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), and dental assistants are generally eligible to take the exam after graduating from an accredited program and earning CPR certification. While licensure may not be required for every dental assistant in some states, it may be required if you want to perform certain advanced tasks, such as coronal polishing. Having the ability to perform these tasks could make you more appealing to potential employers.

Bachelor's Degree in Dental Hygiene

Dental assistants who have earned an associate's degree and want to continue their educations can enroll in a dental hygiene program at the bachelor's degree level. While some programs are designed for recent high school graduates, many require students to earn an associate's degree in dental assisting or dental hygiene prior to being admitted to the program. In any case, the first two years of the program will be similar to that of an associate's degree program, and the final two years will feature more advanced courses related to dental procedures and care. However, if your goal is only to become a dental assistant, a bachelor's degree program is not necessary nor is one available.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Higher salary potential*
  • Additional responsibilities
  • Job outlook is strong (38% increase from 2010-2020)*

Cons

  • May be exposed to infectious diseases and radiation
  • Must become licensed
  • Work requires long periods of time spent leaning over

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs in dental hygiene include both core courses and electives. Core courses cover dental hygiene education concepts, advanced ethics in dental hygiene, advanced periodontics and dental hygiene practice management. Elective courses will give you an opportunity to specialize in specific dental and healthcare areas, such as healthcare risk management, health information systems, customer relationship management, mental health issues and disease prevention. You'll also focus on areas in dental leadership and research. Finally, you may be required to complete an internship before you can graduate.

Online Course Options

Students who have already earned an associate's degree in dental hygiene have the option to complete a bachelor's degree program online. All courses can be completed online; however, you may be required to meet on campus a few times throughout your program. Technical requirements include a computer with Internet access, and communication will take place through chat rooms, e-mail and discussion boards.

How to Stand Out

Because an associate's degree is the minimum requirement to work as a dental hygienist, earning a bachelor's degree is going to help you stand out in the field. Having a bachelor's degree brings additional employment opportunities. For example, you'll be able to conduct research, teach or work at a public health clinic. If your interest is teaching or conducting research, you could look for opportunities to get involved in research projects or teaching assistantships while completing your bachelor's program to gain valuable experience. You could consider participating in the American Dental Hygienists' Association's National Student Presentation Competition, where you'd compete for cash prizes by researching and presenting a current dental hygiene theory. If you want to work at a public or school clinic, you may look for volunteer or internship opportunities in these areas.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management
      • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS Health Science
      • BS Business Admin w/conc in Healthcare Administration
      • BS Healthcare Administration
      • BS Healthcare Admin in Patient Safety & Quality
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
      • BS in Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
      • B.S. Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    6. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - HSA Mgt.
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Central Christian College of Kansas

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Health Care Management
      • BS in Health Sciences (Health Care Management emphasis)
      • BS in Health Sciences (Health and Wellness emphasis)
  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

Featured Schools

Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Business Administration - Health Care Management

Are you a US citizen?

Kaplan University

  • Bachelor: Health Science
  • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin

Which subject are you interested in?

Southern New Hampshire University

  • BS Health Science
  • BS Business Admin w/conc in Healthcare Administration
  • BS Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
  • BS in Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • B.S. General Studies - Life Sciences
  • B.S. Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - HSA Mgt.
  • Bachelor of Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management

Are you a US citizen?

Central Christian College of Kansas

  • BS in Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education completed?

Excelsior College

  • BS in Health Care Management
  • BS in Health Sciences (Health Care Management emphasis)
  • BS in Health Sciences (Health and Wellness emphasis)

What is your highest level of education completed?