Is becoming an Expanded Function dental assistant worth it?

March 21, 2013
Tija Hunter addresses the inquiries of a fellow dental assistant.

Because I write articles that sing the praises of being a dental assistant, I receive emails asking for advice. I hear everything from how to ask for a raise, what questions to ask on an interview, how to prepare a resume, and more. I recently received this email from a dental assistant asking about expanded functions. I personally am a champion of expanded functions, and I love to preach the benefits! Here is the question:

I was hoping to get some advice from you. I am a dental assistant in Indiana. I graduated from school last year and have been working in the dental field for nine months now. I really want to move up to expanded functions. I love working with my hands and want to do more than just hand instruments. You seem so well informed and educated in this area that I thought you might be able to share some info based on reading your articles online. Is there really more opportunity to grow in the dental field as an EFDA than regular dental assistant, and how does it affect the pay or salary? Hope to hear from you.

Here is my response: Thank you for your email. I do love talking to assistants from around the world! We can share so much with each other. Expanded functions are great and allow you to do more than just pass instruments. When I became EF, it's like I was more involved with the patient’s treatment, and I felt more a part of it. And yes, in many offices, there is an upgrade in pay.

Indiana requires a limited dental radiographic license issued by the Indiana State Department of Health/Division of Medical Radiology Services. Do you have that? To obtain this state license, you must:

• Successfully complete
o A dental assisting program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation
o An Indiana Board-approved program in dental radiography AND THEN
• Be certified by a licensed practitioner or licensed dental hygienist in an approved educational program as proficient in
performing the procedures included in the limited dental curriculum AND THEN
• Pass one (1) or more of the following exams:
o DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam OR
o DANB’s Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) exam OR
o An exam approved by the Indiana State Department of Health/Division of Medical Radiology Services AND THEN
• Apply to the Indiana State Department of Health/Division of Medical Radiology Services for a limited dental
radiographic license

The State of Indiana allows qualified dental assistants to perform two expanded functions: coronal polishing and topical fluoride application (both of which must be performed under the direct supervision of a licensed dentist). Indiana requires that dental assistants meet specific requirements before performing either of these functions. For coronal polishing, a dental assistant must successfully complete a Board-approved curriculum for the polishing of the coronal surfaces of teeth. For topical fluoride application, a dental assistant must complete a Board-approved curriculum for applying medicaments for the control or prevention of dental caries. I would recommend you become qualified to perform both of these functions.*

Most of these courses cost quite a bit, so be sure to talk to your doctor to see if he or she is willing to pay for the course. I would even ask, "Once I become EF, does that mean a pay increase?" Let's say he or she doesn't want to pay for the course. Don't let that stop you from getting it.

At the time I took mine, my doctor paid for the course only. I had to go out of town to take it and pay for my food, gas, and hotel. But I knew I was improving myself and the knowledge I gained would go with me if I left the practice. I didn't know what direction I was headed back then, but I knew I had to learn all I could, and I still believe that.

I'm a big believer in communication. If you keep the doors open with your employer, you'll be on the same page. Don't hesitate to talk to him or her about a pay increase. According to salary results, the average pay for a dental assistant in your area is around $16 an hour. You have around nine months in the field, so I would imagine your pay is somewhat less. You need to know that experience speaks volumes! So the more experience you have, the better you'll be. These next couple of years should be spent doing everything you can to learn, learn, and learn! Then by the time you have two or three years’ experience, you'll be able to command a very good wage.

I have a couple of questions for you — Have you earned CDA certification through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB)? Are you a member of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA)?

I ask these things because both can help you grow through education and networking. I look forward to hearing back from you as you continue to better yourself. You have reached out to me for help, so that shows you’re serious about your career. Good for you!

Earning and maintaining CDA certification through DANB sets you apart as taking your education and career seriously. It represents a standard of excellence and the commitment you have to your career.

I strongly believe that there is power in numbers! As a member of the American Dental Assistants Association, you will have access to a vast network of dental assistants who are highly devoted to the advancement and growth of our profession. They are passionate about their careers and love nothing more than sharing that passion. It is my recommendation that if you aren’t a CDA, you become one. If you haven’t checked out the ADAA, visit to see the benefits of belonging to the organization that was formed just for you.

ALSO BY TIJA:Setting goals for a happy New Year from the perspective of a dental assistant
Emergencies in the dental office: Are you ready?

*Note: For complete information about the dental assisting requirements in your state, including any necessary education, exams, or certification, visit the state requirements section of DANB’s website or contact your state dental board.

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, is a 1981 graduate of the Missouri College, and has more than 30 years of chairside experience. She is currently the office manager/chairside assistant to Dr. Eric Hurtte of O’Fallon Mo. She is a member of the ADAA, founder of the Dental Assistants Study Club of St. Louis, director of the Dental Careers Institute, and an independent consultant specializing in assistant training, team building, office organization, and CEREC assistant training. She can be reached at [email protected], or find her on Facebook.