How to Become a Dental Assistant in North Carolina: Programs, Certifications and More

North Carolina sets standards for dental assistants who perform more advanced duties, but does not license or certify them; the employer must determine that they possess the qualifications. There are two classifications: Dental Assistant I (DA I) and Dental Assistant II (DA II).

At the Dental Assistant I level, standards are set by the employer. An exception: Workers at the Dental Assistant I level may be allowed to monitor patients who have had nitrous oxide but can do so only if they have met state-mandated standards.

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Qualifying as a Dental Assistant II: Dental Assistant Programs

There are three pathways to Dental Assistant II. The quickest path is to complete a dental assistant program in North Carolina or another state accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) or spend at least one year pursuing studies in a CODA-accredited dental hygiene program. (Dental hygiene programs are more advanced and typically take longer.) North Carolina boasts many CODA-accredited dental assistant programs.

A dental assistant can also qualify on the basis of on-the-job training and experience but must have some coursework in crucial topic areas. The Board requires CPR training as well as three hours each in sterilization and dental office emergencies. After meeting these basic requirements, the dental assistant can begin to perform duties at the Dental Assistant II level while working under control and supervision.

The individual will need at least 3,000 hours of experience as a chairside dental assistant in order to qualify. To be creditable, the 3,000 hours must be accrued within the prior five-year time period.

The North Carolina Board also recognizes certification as a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) by the Dental Assisting National Board as verification of competency at the Dental II level. However, if the dental assistant does not have qualifying education, the CDA certification cannot be achieved with less than 3,500 hours of experience.

Qualifying for X-Ray Duties

A dental assistant below the DA II level may qualify to carry out radiologic duties. The Board recognizes dental assistants who have completed CODA-accredited programs or are certified as CDAs as being qualified to carry out radiologic procedures. In other cases, a dental assistant must qualify through coursework and examination. The Board notes that this is the case even for out-of-state licensees. North Carolina has its own equivalency exam. A student who completes an approved course will take the equivalency exam as part of the requirements. Approved courses are offered by a variety of institutions, including technical community colleges, proprietary schools, and AHEC centers. A list can be found on the Board website (

Approved courses are also authorized to administer the equivalency exam to qualified individuals. The Board permits examination challenge after seven hours of qualifying coursework. An out-of-state dental assistant may be permitted to challenge if he or she can document having had the required training.

Qualifying in Nitrous Oxide Monitoring

In order to monitor patients who have had nitrous oxide, a dental assistant must take a Board-approved seven hour course.

Qualifying in Coronal Polishing

A Dental Assistant must have a seven hour course in dental polishing in order to perform the procedure. A dental assistant who performs coronal polishing might be considered a hygiene assistant. Some restrictions apply to the use of dental assistants in coronal polishing. The dental office may not, for example, post a separate charge for the coronal polishing procedure (

The course is to include three hours of didactic instruction and four hours of clinical training. The Dental Assisting National Board notes that a course that is identical to what is taught in a CODA-accredited program can be accepted as qualifying in North Carolina (

Becoming a Certified Dental Assistant in North Carolina

A dental assistant who seeks certification as a CDA will need to take three tests. Two of these, Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) and Infection Control (ICE), may be attempted before all certification requirements have been met.

A prospective CDA will not attempt the General Chairside Examination (GC) until such time as he or she has met the education or experience requirement. The application includes a form for documentation of experience; it is to be completed by a licensed dentist. The Dental Assisting National Board will also seek evidence of CPR certification.

CDA examinations are selected response. They are delivered via computer at Pearson VUE testing centers. Application materials can be downloaded from the DANB website. Applicants answer questions about their legal and professional backgrounds. In some cases, supporting documentation will be required.

Continuing education is required for recertification (

The CDA credential is referenced in state code in many parts of the nation.

Additional Information

Information is available from the North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners ( The Board can be reached by telephone at 919-678-8223 or by email at ‘info at’. Additional contact information can be found on the Board website (

The North Carolina Board refers people to the Dental Assisting National Board for information about North Carolina scope of practice (