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Myth busters for dental assistants: I don’t need to become a Certified Dental Assistant

Jan. 22, 2020
Tija Hunter made the mistake of listening to others who talked her out of becoming certified. Fortunately, she later pursued her dream, and she highly recommends that her fellow assistants do the same. Forget the myths!

“I don’t have to become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA). I don’t need to have a CDA to get a job or make more money. Right?”

Well, actually, that’s not entirely wrong. But allow me to explain.

Even though you might work in a state that does not require you to become a CDA through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), there are some amazing benefits to having those initials after your name.

Some states require a permit, some a license, and some DANB CDA certification. Every state is different. However, the majority of states that require a radiology permit or license refer back to the DANB radiation health and safety (RHS) exam, which is the radiology portion of the CDA exam necessary to hold a permit or license in that state. This is the same with states that require an infection control permit or license.

You can check state requirements at danb.org and use the “search by state” tab on the left. This has all of the information you need for every state. DANB collects this information, reaches out to each state’s dental board to verify its accuracy, and keeps it up to date for dental assistants to reference.

I should not have listened to others

I heard about the DANB CDA exam several years ago and decided to take it. But many people said, “Do you know how much that test is?” and “You know you don’t need that to get a job don’t you?” I listened, and then allowed them to dictate my career path. Shame on me!

If there’s one piece of advice that I want to share with you, it’s to never allow anyone to choose your path. They are not you, and they don’t have your dreams and desires. They don’t walk in your shoes, and they won’t end up where you end up.

Several years later, I wanted to write articles for dental publications. I had a passion for writing and a lot to share with my fellow assistants. I published my first article without any initials behind my name. However, I thought those initials would mean something to the people reading my articles, to other dental professionals. So, I made it my goal to conquer that exam. Passing it was a huge accomplishment for me. It’s not easy, but if it were easy everyone would have it and it wouldn’t mean anything. I hold that CDA certification with honor and always will.

What are the advantages?

The first advantage is the education. The knowledge you’ll gain from studying for this exam is incredible. It literally ignited my passion for learning again, at the age of 48!

Just passing the exam sets you apart as a dental assistant. There are approximately 330,000 dental assistants in the US today, and only about 39,000 of them are DANB-certified. Certification says you’re dedicated to serving your profession and you want to be the best that you can be. Holding DANB certification makes you stand out to other dental professionals. Some jobs—government, state-run dental schools, and others—require a CDA certification in order to work there.

Then there’s the advantage of money. Surveys show that DANB-certified dental assistants on average make more money. Some of this I credit to the government jobs that require it. However, when I hire in my office, I look for DANB-certified assistants. I want that dedication and commitment in the people I hire. Many others feel the same way.

Becoming a DANB-certified dental assistant is your own professional accomplishment. Is it scary? Yes. Is it worth it? Oh, yes! Many people can help you along the way, so never hesitate to reach out to someone if you need advice and guidance. Take pride in yourself and your profession and take the DANB CDA exam. Join the ranks of those of us who are truly proud to be nationally certified oral health-care professionals.  

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About the Author

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA

Tija Hunter, CDA, CDIA, CDIPC, CDSH, CDSO, EFDA, MADAA, is a member and former vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program, and the author of seven continuing education study courses. She is an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states. She can be reached at [email protected].

Updated January 12, 2024