Types of Dental Assistants

If you are brand new to the field and haven’t already read our page What is a Dental Assistant?, we encourage you to do so before reading some of the more specific information discussed here.

The following is a list of the different types of dental assistants that you’re likely to come across in the state of NJ.

Although the formal titles are listed here first, most people will use the titles as they are in the parenthesis.

  • Unregistered Dental Assistant (entry level dental assistant)
  • Dental Radiologic Technologist (Dental x-ray license)
  • Certified Dental Assistant (CDA )
  • Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)

The specific job titles and requirements may vary from state to state. If you live outside of New Jersey you are encouraged to look into the specific requirements for dental assisting in your home state. You may still be able to use our Home Study Courses or use some of our products, but please be aware that you are ultimately responsible for meeting the specific requirements to become a dental assistant where you live. Click here for more information if you live in the United States, but are looking to earn your credentials outside of New Jersey.

Most people will progress through the different levels of credentialing in the order listed above.

At Dental Assistant Services we do our best to prepare the students in our programs to be qualified, knowledgeable, capable, confident, and prepared not only to earn their desired credentials, but also to have a successful career in the field of dental assisting.


While it is still possible in a limited number of offices to begin your career without any experience or education (technically as an “unregistered dental assistant”) and be trained on the job, the majority of doctors and dental offices prefer to hire someone with training.

The typical background for someone looking to obtain an entry level position as a dental assistant in NJ is to have an introduction to the field, such as by taking an Introductory Dental Assisting course. This course will cover all of the various dental assisting, terminologies, procedures and materials to get you started in the field with only a minimal amount of science. While an understanding of basic anatomy is important and should be understood, the more intense details of anatomy and physiology are not necessary to become a dental assistant.

Once you have this background knowledge you can begin to work on obtaining a license that will allow you to take dental x-rays (also called radiographs). A NJ Board approved Radiology course is a required course to obtain your license. After becoming a Licensed Dental Radiologic Technologist (in other words, after getting your dental x-ray license) you should begin to have an easier time finding a dental assisting job.

You should begin looking for a dental assisting job at this point because the next stage of your education will require some work experience. Usually after getting your dental x-ray license a dental assistant will begin working towards becoming a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA). As part of the requirements to obtain this certification you will need to pass three exams.

The Home Study Courses you would need are: Review of Radiation Health & Safety, Infection Control, and General Chairside. They will help you to earn your CDAcertificate. The good news is that if you already received your dental x-ray license in NJ, you probably already took the first of the three exams, and as a result you will most likely only have to take Infection Control and General Chairside. However, to obtain a CDA certificate you will also need at least two years of work experience. As a result, most students will take Infection Control and General Chairside while completing their work experience requirement and studying for the exams.

Finally, after you’ve obtained your CDAcertificate you can begin preparing to become a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA). This is the highest level of dental assisting offered in New Jersey. It offers you the most options as far as what procedures you can legally perform and also makes you the most marketable and most desired as a potential employee. Our course on Expanded Functions course is designed to prepare you to obtain your RDA license. This final course can be completed as a Home Study Course at your own pace (as quick as you can study the notes).

Please see below for a useful summary about credentials, experience, education, and job responsibilities.

Overview of Credentials

Dental assistant job titles are based upon different levels of credentialing. You may have heard for instance someone talking about getting an x-ray license, a CDA certificate, or being an RDA, or an EFDA. While there have been proposals to nationally standardize the job titles for dental assistants, as it stands today each state continues to have its own set of job titles, credentialing, and legally acceptable job responsibilities.

Below is a list of some examples just to show you the variety of job titles that exist nationwide:


Job Title: State(s):
Dental Assistant with a Limited Permit New York
Dental Assistant I / Dental Assistant II North Carolina
Traditional Dental Assistant Vermont
On-The-Job Trained Dental Assistant Massachusetts
Graduate Dental Assistant New Hampshire
Expanded Functions Dental Assistant (EFDA) Pennsylvania and six others
Registered Restorative Assistant in Extended Functions California
Dental Assistant Qualified in General Duties Maryland
Registered Dental Assistant Qualified In
or To Perform Expanded/Extended Duties/Functions
California, Michigan, Minnesota,
and Tennessee

In the state of New Jersey there are four different levels of dental assisting that you should be familiar with. Without any formal education or training a person who began working in a dental office with only on-the-job training would be called an “unregistered dental assistant”. With an introduction to dental assisting and a license permitting you to take dental x-rays you would be called a Licensed (or Limited) Dental Radiologic Technologist (LDRT). Practically speaking though, most people will simply say that they have a dental x-ray license.

With at least two years of experience and training in radiology, infection control, and general chairside procedures you can earn a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certificate. With a little more training you can become licensed as a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA). An RDA is the highest level of credentialing that a dental assistant can obtain in New Jersey.

Dental Assistant:

A person hired simply as a Dental Assistant (technically referred to as an unregistered dental assistant) who strictly has on-the-job training would be able to greet patients and escort them into the proper room. You could also handle some office paperwork such as billing and ordering inventory. Additionally, an unregistered dental assistant would be expected to maintain infection control standards and would be permitted to set up and prepare for certain dental procedures. In some cases, you may also be able to assist with some of the simpler dental procedures. Fewer employers are hiring dental assistants without any prior training.

Dental X-Ray License (Licensed Dental Radiologic Technologist)

A person with their dental x-ray license is technically referred to as a licensed or limited dental radiologic technologist. Someone with this license would be permitted to perform all of the functions described above and would also be allowed to take dental radiographs (x-rays). This is typically the first license that a dental assistant in New Jersey would attain.

Certified Dental Assistant (CDA)

Earning a CDAcertificate is primarily an educational milestone. The CDA certification is broken down into three parts (Radiation Health& Safety, Infection Control, and General Chairside). The Radiation Health & Safety component is typically contained in the process of obtaining a Dental Radiologic Technologist license (LDRT), also known as a dental x-ray license. All of the infection control and general chairside procedures such as sterilizing instruments, preparing sharps containers for mailing, and assisting with restorations, crowns, and root canals can be performed by a dental assistant without first obtaining a CDA certificate.

Nevertheless, a CDAcertificate is an indication to employers and the public that you are a “qualified and knowledgeable professional”. The education you’ll obtain in earning your certification will help you to better understand why certain procedures are performed and provide you with an overall comprehensive appreciation of what is actually being performed and how things come together when working on a particular procedure. Additionally, New Jersey law requires that a person seeking to become an RDA must first obtain a CDA certificate.

Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)

An RDA license is the highest level of licensure that a dental assistant in New Jersey can obtain. Before becoming an RDA, New Jersey law requires that you first obtain a CDAcertificate. As far as the actual responsibilities that an RDA is permitted to perform they include all of the responsibilities and duties listed above and many others including those listed below.


Only an RDA is legally permitted to:

  1. Place and remove a rubber dam
  2. Place and remove a retraction cord
  3. Construct temporary crowns
  4. Remove cement from crowns
  5. Take alginate impressions
  6. Place and remove a matrix
  7. Remove sutures
  8. Perform bite registrations
  9. Place and remove periodontal dressings
  10. Place and remove orthodontic wires
  11. Apply fluoride
  12. Place pit and fissure sealants



Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA)

In order to obtain a COA certificate, a dental assistant must pass a challenging set of two exams. After successfully obtaining a COA certificate, a dental assistant may use the certification to demonstrate proficiency in orthodontic assisting. However in the state of New Jersey a COA certificate does not permit a dental assistant to perform any additional duties than what can legally be performed without the certificate. A COA would still need to acquire an RDA license to perform orthodontic procedures.


Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA)

One of the more recent Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offerings is a CPFDA certification which became available on April 1, 2011.

  • It permits a dental assistant to perform the following four tasks:
  • Coronal Polishing
  • Topical Fluoride Application
  • Sealant Application
  • Topical Anesthetics Application

According to the New Jersey State Board of Dentistry, NJ based dental assistants cannot perform coronal polishing (prophy), regardless of their credentials. The other three tasks listed above can be performed by a NJ licensed RDA. Thus in the state of NJ, the CPFDA certification is essentially not applicable.

If you are a NJ based dental assistant you may still take the individual exams in each of these four areas in order to show proficiency, though you will still be unable to obtain the full benefits of CPFDA certification in the state of NJ.

If you live outside of NJ or perhaps live on the border of NJ and another state and are interested in obtaining a CPFDA certification elsewhere, you can visit DANB’s website for further information. They have a useful summary sheet that shows which states permit (or more precisely do not prohibit) all four tasks to be carried out by a dental assistant as well as which states expressly prohibit one or more of the specific tasks. More detailed information can also be found in the CPFDAExam Application Packet.







Certification or License? Governing Agency:

of Additional Job Duties:


Unregistered Dental Assistant None.

Dental Assisting


None Not applicable

Greeting patients, preparing
for, and assisting with some procedures.


Licensed Dental Radiologic
Technologist (LDRT)1


A brief clinical  (it’s like an


Dental Radiology License

of X-Ray Compliance
(Department of Environmental Protection)


Taking dental radiographs


Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) Certificant


Two years of experience in a
dental office.


Review of Radiation
Health & Safety2, Infection Control, and General Chairside3



Dental Assisting National Board (DANB



Assisting in chairside
procedures.  The CDA certificate is mostly an educational achievement.


Registered Dental Assistant (RDA)

Must already possess a CDA certificate.


Expanded Functions License

State Board of Dentistry


Construct temporary crowns, take
alginate impressions, remove sutures, place and remove a matrix and
orthodontic wires, and more.


1A Licensed Dental Radiologic Technologist may also be referred to as a Limited Dental Radiologic Technologist, where the word limited emphasizes the fact that someone with this license is limited to taking only dental radiographs (or x-rays) as opposed to medical images on other parts of the body. A Dental Radiologic Technologist may also be abbreviated DRT.  In practice however, most people will simply say that they have a dental x-ray license.
2If you obtained your dental x-ray license in NJ you will likely not have to take our Review of Radiation Health & Safety couse to obtain a CDA certificate.
3The courses are usually taken in the order listed here; though it is not an absolute requirement.

Further information about the process and requirements of obtaining a dental x-ray license, a CDA certificate, and/or becoming an RDA is available on the corresponding course description pages, while an overview of the courses and a summary of the order of when the courses are generally taken is provided here.

Dental Assistant Services

Dental Assistant Services provides a variety of courses designed to help you obtain and maintain your dental assisting credentials.