Demystifying credentialing terms

April 19, 2011
DANB explains what certification is, how it is different from licensure and registration — and what it means when DANB Certification is recognized or required in a state.

Because each state sets its own requirements for dental assisting, it can be confusing and overwhelming to dental assistants new to a state or to the profession to navigate the steps they need to take. Some states require dental assistants to earn licensure. Other states require registration. Dental assistants may also be required to earn certification. To understand the various levels and credentials in dental assisting, the definitions of certification, licensure or registration are worth noting.

  • Certification is a time-limited credential issued after passing voluntary test of a professional’s competency, based on pre-determined standards and administered by a non-governmental agency.
  • Licensure is granted by a state governmental body. Licensure often requires proof of education and testing, and is a way for the state government to give permission to someone to practice that profession. Depending on the state, registration has at least three meanings.
  • Registration can be similar to licensure, where the state is authorizing someone to practice after reviewing proof of education and examination results. Or, registration can be where the state simply keeps a list of those in a profession who register and requires an initial and periodic renewal fee. In some states, registration is required to practice, but the state may choose not to track those who meet state regulatory requirements, and leave this responsibility to the employer.

These definitions are abridged versions of definitions developed or compiled by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE). For the complete versions, additional definitions, and a source bibliography, download:
ICE’s Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts

Excerpts from the ICE Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts.

DANB Recognition
Although there is no uniform model for dental assisting education or credentialing requirements (that is, a model accepted in most or all states), most states recognize or require exams developed by the Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB) to meet state dental assisting regulations. DANB offers three national certification programs for dental assistants: Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA), and Certified Preventive Dental Assistant (CPDA). DANB’s CDA and COA certification programs meet the high standards of and are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). NCCA’s mission is to help ensure the health, welfare and safety of the public through accreditation of certification programs that assess professional competence. NCCA-accredited certification programs, like DANB’s CDA and COA, help to ensure validity, reliability and objectivity in the testing process.

Not only is Certification a source of credibility for the dental assistant, it is a source of pride and professionalism. DANB Certification demonstrates a commitment to lifelong learning and the dental profession. Continuing education requirements are part of DANB’s Recertification Requirements, which helps ensure DANB Certificants are informed on the latest developments in their field. This advances not only the dental assistants’ career, but also the dental assisting profession.

DANB Certification and exams are recognized or required in 38 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Air Force and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It is important to understand the difference between recognized and required. Recognition means that DANB exams or Certifications are one option among other ways to meet state requirements. A requirement, on the other hand, means that a DANB exam or Certification is the only way to meet the conditions set by the state. In some states, passing one or more DANB exams is required for dental assistants to expose radiographs or perform expanded duties. In other states, DANB Certification and exams are recognized as one of the ways to meet state requirements to expose radiographs or perform expanded duties. For example, DANB’s CDA exam is recognized or required in 29 states, while DANB’s Radiation Health and Safety exam, a component of the CDA exam, is recognized or required in 20 states.

DANB recognizes and supports the authority of individual states to regulate oral healthcare professionals, including dental assistants. By offering objective, defen¬sible, and accessible exams to measure dental assisting competency, recognition of DANB exams and certification programs enhances dental assistants’ career options, including ease in moving to different states, and helps state dental boards to apply a consistent standard of knowledge-based competency for dental assistants, in support of public protection. By earning and maintaining DANB Certification, dental assistants elevate themselves, their career and the profession.

To learn more about state requirements and recognition of DANB exams, download DANB’s Measuring Excellence flier at, or visit the State-Specific Information section of DANB’s website. Exam application packets are also available at