Studying for an online dental assistant degree provides you with the specific skills required to kick-start your career as a dental assistant. Upon graduation, you can apply for dental assistant jobs at a dental practice or laboratory and start earning money. In this guide, learn about online dental assisting degrees and the career opportunities available to you upon graduation.
What Is an Online Dental Assistant Degree Program?
An online dental assistant degree program lets you achieve a degree (or diploma/certificate) from a college, community college, or technical school and become a dental assistant over the internet. All you need is a computer and a broadband connection. Instead of studying in a traditional classroom environment, you learn the required skills to become a dental assistant from the comfort of your home. These skills include:
- Oral anatomy
- Infection control
- CPR/first aid
- Dental office administration skills like patient record-keeping
- General practice management skills
Typically, you will complete all course content online. However, some schools combine online lessons with hands-on clinical experience at a local dental practice or laboratory. Your online curriculum could comprise coursework, video tutorials, live webinars, virtual simulations, and one-to-one teaching with tutors. Most online schools will prepare you for the National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA) examination from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Many employers won’t hire you as a dental assistant until you have passed this exam.
Achieving an online dental assistant degree provides multiple career opportunities, and you could get a job at a dental practice, dental laboratory, hospital, or another medical facility upon graduation. As a dental assistant, you will be responsible for various duties in one of these environments, such as administration, patient care, and assisting dentists during procedures. You will be part of a team and engage with patients daily.
Why Choose an Online Dental Assistant Degree?
An online dental assistant program has several advantages over traditional classroom-based courses. You won’t have to commute or live on campus, and you can study anywhere in the world. Many online dental assistant schools let you learn at your own pace, which provides further flexibility. That means you can pass the NELDA exam and get certified as a dental assistant even if you have a full-time job or family commitments.
Listing an online degree on your resume could also make you extremely attractive to future employers because you develop the following skills:
- Critical thinking
- Virtual communication
- Time management
Plus, you can embark on a career path that brings increased earning potential and multiple learning and employment opportunities.
There are various misconceptions associated with online dental assistant degrees. Some students think they will have to learn course material on their own and can’t communicate with other students, but this isn’t true. Many educational providers have support systems for at-home learners, where students can engage and network in online communities.
How Much Does a Dental Assistant Degree Cost?
The cost of an online dental assistant degree (or certificate) depends on the type of program you want to study and the educational institution where you want to study it. It might cost you anywhere from $1,000–$10,000 in tuition costs and another $1,000–$3,000 in NELDA exam fees, registration fees, program supplies, and other expenses.
Despite these costs, studying to become a dental assistant online could work out cheaper than learning in a “conventional” college environment. That’s because you won’t have accommodation or travel costs. Plus, you can learn at your own pace and still work full time.
As with a traditional degree, you can apply for scholarships, grants, and other financial aid to reduce the costs associated with your online dental assistant program. Some employers might offer tuition fee reimbursement if you work at their practice after graduation.
One benefit of studying for a dental assistant degree online is that you can study at your own pace and incorporate learning into your regular schedule. That means you can spread the cost of your online degree over months or years.
How Much Do Dental Assistant Majors Make?
Dental assistants earn, on average, $42,310 per year (mean annual wage), according to the most recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That’s $20.34 per hour. State government is the top-paying industry for dental assistants (employees earn a mean annual wage of $50,080), followed by nursing care facilities ($46,370) and other ambulatory healthcare services ($46,090).
Dental assistant salaries fluctuate across the United States. Here are the five states with the highest average dental assistant salaries, according to BLS:
- Minnesota: $53,670 per year ($25.50 per hour)
- Massachusetts: $51,750 ($24.88)
- Alaska: $51,230 ($24.63)
- New Hampshire: $50,820 ($24.43)
- Oregon: $48,320 ($23.23)
Here are the five metropolitan areas with the highest average dental assistant salaries:
- Santa Rosa, CA: $58,570 per year ($28.16 per hour)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI: $56,240 ($27.04)
- Vallejo-Fairfield, CA: $54,550 ($26.23)
- San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $54,250 ($26.08)
- Bismarck, ND: $53,600 ($25,77)
Dental assistants who work night or weekend shifts might earn more than the averages above. Those with specific skills such as data compliance or knowledge of dental medicine can also expect a higher salary.
What Is the Job Outlook for Dental Assistant Degree Holders?
A graduate with a dental assistant degree can apply for the following job roles:
- Dental assistant
- Dental office administrator
- Dental assistant instructor
- Dental sales representative
The long-term outlook is positive for those with a dental assistant degree. There will be an 11.2% increase in job opportunities for dental assistants from 2018 to 2028, according to Projections Central/U.S. Department of Labor. That’s higher than the average for all occupations (5.2%).
Scholarships for Dental Assistant Students
Several organizations award dental assistant students with scholarships for academic achievement or other excellence. Students can use these scholarship payments to reduce the costs associated with their degrees.
- American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) Merit Scholar Award: Presented to dental assistants who contribute to the success of patient outcomes, clinical experiences, and overall office efficiency.
- ADAA/DANB Scholarship for Dental Assistants: Presented to one or more members of the ADAA enrolled in an accredited dental assistant program (online or on-campus).
- Hispanic Dental Association Foundation: Awarded to members of the Hispanic Dental Association currently enrolled in an accredited dentistry-related program, including eligible online dentist assisting courses.
- Tylenol Future Care Scholarship: Pharmaceutical company Tylenol recognizes learners in all healthcare and dentistry fields with a generous scholarship for students enrolled in accredited schools. Eligible students can receive up to $10,000.
- Juliette A. Southard Scholarship: A scholarship for students on dentistry-related courses from the founder of ADAA.
- Indian Health Service (IHS): A scholarship for American Indian and Alaska Native healthcare and dentistry students, including those enrolled in an accredited online dental assistant program.
FAQs About Dental Assistant Degrees
There are three main career paths to becoming a dental assistant:
- Online dental assisting degree programs
- On-campus dental assisting degree programs
- Dental assisting degrees that combine online and on-campus learning
All these program options take around the same time to complete. You can typically get a dental assisting associate’s degree in two years when studying full time and a dental assisting diploma in around a year full time.
Benefits of online dental assisting degrees include:
- The opportunity to study from the privacy and comfort of your home.
- No commuting or accommodation costs.
- Work at your own pace and balance family/work commitments.
- Online dental assisting degree tuition costs vary depending on the school.
- Prices range from $1,000–$10,000 for tuition.
- Prices range from $1,000–$3,000 for exam fees, registration fees, program supplies, and other costs.
- If eligible, you can apply for scholarships, grants, and other financial aid to offset or eliminate these costs.