Becoming an Expanded Functions Dental Assistant

The road to expanded functions dental assistant is not always clear – especially with different requirements in each state. Fortunately, DANB can help you navigate the course.

May 23rd, 2011

Information provided by DANB

One of the most common questions dental assistants ask is, “How do I become an expanded functions dental assistant?” Unfortunately, because every state is different, there is no simple answer. In fact, not all states use the title Expanded Functions Dental Assistant (EFDA).

Believe it or not, there are at least 41 different job titles for dental assistants in the United States! In some states, for example, a dental assistant who performs expanded functions is called an Expanded Duties Dental Assistant. In other states, this assistant may be called a Registered Dental Assistant, Licensed Dental Assistant or Qualified Dental Assistant. Some states have only one level of dental assistant, while other states have up to five levels and job titles. And, every state has different education, exam and experience requirements. No wonder there’s so much confusion!

Furthermore, each state defines the duties classified as expanded functions differently. For example, in Colorado, an on-the-job trained dental assistant can administer topical anesthetic, but in Massachusetts, this function may only be delegated to an EFDA with immediate supervision.

Because duties and titles vary from state to state, it’s important for dental assistants to be informed about the requirements in their state and any state in which they plan to work. The Dental Assisting National Board, Inc. (DANB) has compiled the dental assisting requirements for each state. To read about each state’s job titles, requirements and allowable duties, visit the “State-Specific Information” section of DANB’s website at www.danb.org.

Many states recognize or require DANB Certification and exams to perform expanded duties. Passing DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam and maintaining Certification is often the foundation for performing more dental assisting functions and pursuing career growth.

Cynthia Bradley, CDA, CDPMA, EFDA, B.A., for example, quickly realized that in order to advance in her career, she needed further education and credentials. “I started as an on-the-job trained dental assistant in Georgia in 1976,” she explains. “When I moved to Florida, I realized that without formal education, I would not get very far.”

She enrolled in Orlando Tech’s dental assisting night program and earned CDA Certification after graduating. From there, Bradley earned the expanded functions designation in Florida and DANB’s Certified Dental Practice Management Administrator (CDPMA) Certification. Currently, Bradley is the Director of the Dental Assisting Department at Orlando Tech and is working toward DANB’s Certified Preventive Dental Assistant (CPDA) Certification. “I pursued every credential that I could have,” she notes.

Next steps
If you are interested in expanded functions, there are many steps you can take.

1. Check your state’s requirements.
Visit the dental board’s website or visit the State-Specific Information section of DANB’s website at www.danb.org. From there, you can determine which duties dental assistants are allowed to perform, and the education, experience and exam requirements. You can also find links to each state’s dental board website; dental board websites often contain the applications you will need to complete to meet that state’s dental assistant requirements.

2. Research dental assisting programs and board-approved courses.
To perform expanded duties, many state dental boards require that dental assistants graduate from a Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)-accredited dental assisting program and/or complete one or more state dental board-approved course. Check with your dental board to find out which courses are board-approved. For a list of CODA-accredited dental assisting programs, visit www.ada.org or www.danb.org.

3. Earn DANB’s CDA Certification.
DANB’s CDA exam is recognized or required in 29 states to perform expanded functions or expose radiographs. Holding CDA Certification is a way to advance your career, enhance career mobility and gain a professional advantage. Download the CDA Application Packet at www.danb.org.

4. Consider DANB’s CPDA exam.
Although each state sets its own requirements to perform expanded duties, there are some general trends across the nation. For instance, many states are expanding the duties that assistants are allowed to perform. Currently, 43 dental practice acts allow dental assistants to perform coronal polishing procedures, 38 allow dental assistants to apply sealants, 45 allow dental assistants to apply topical fluoride, and 49 allow dental assistants to apply topical anesthetic. DANB’s CPDA Certification exam includes component exams on these four functions. In total, 35 states allow dental assistants to perform all four functions covered by the CPDA’s component exams (Coronal Polish, Sealants, Topical Fluoride and Topical Anesthetic).

To learn more about DANB’s CPDA Certification, download the CPDA Application Packet at www.danb.org.

*Please note: DANB’s CPDA certification was renamed Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA) in December 2011.

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