Dental Assistant Exam Guide

Dental Assistant Exam Summary
What: DANB is a national organization that offers certification in various forms of dental assisting.
Who: Those wishing to become certified in dental assisting who live in any of the 38 states that require or recognize the DANB credential.
Where: DANB certification exams are administered at Pearson VUE testing centers throughout the United States.
When: Exams can be taken year-round, following approval receipt of a Test Admission Notice by DANB. Candidates have 60 days from the time their eligibility notice is received to take the tests.
How: DANB certification exams are computerized multiple choice exams.
Type: DANB offers complete CDA, COA and CPFDA exams, as well as component exams.
Why: DANB is a national organization responsible for certifying dental assistants. They determine minimum competency requirements and protect the health and safety of the public in relation to oral healthcare practices.
Time: Complete CDA exam has a four hour time limit.
Language: English
Preparation: Prep courses and materials are available.
Cost: There are fees to take any of the certification exams.

By Andrea Cohen, Tests.com Contributing Writer

The Dental Assisting National Board Inc. (DANB) is a non-profit organization that is the nationally-recognized agency for certifying and credentialing dental and orthodontic assistants. DANB is recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA), and their exam programs are accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). DANB exams provide a way to identify qualified dental and orthodontic assistants, and in the process, promote excellence in oral healthcare practices. DANB’s exams for Certified Dental Assistant (CDA), Certified Orthodontic Assistant (COA) and Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant (CPFDA) are required or meet regulatory requirements in 38 states.

In addition to the CDA, COA and CPFDA certifications, the DANB offers certification in subjects that are components to the three major certifications.  It offers certification in Radiation Health and Safety (RHS) and Infection Control (ICE) both of which are components to the CDA exam.  It also offers certification in Coronal Polish (CP), Sealants (SE), Topical Anesthetic (TA) and Topical Flouride (TF), all of which are components to the CPFDA exam. 

DANB certification is good for one year. Certification must be renewed annually and requires DANB-accepted CPR certification, at least twelve hours of continuing dental education and an annual renewal fee.

Those who pass the certification exams and become certified assistants may benefit through having greater earning power and career mobility, recognition in the workplace, and the knowledge that they have met all competency standards in the industry.

Certified Dental Assistant Exam (CDA)

The CDA exam is made up of three component exams:

  • General Chairside Assisting (GC)
  • Radiation Health and Safety (RHS)
  • Infection Control (ICE)


The exams may be taken together as the CDA exam, or can be taken separately to earn the credential of CDA, as long as they are all successfully completed within five years.

The complete CDA exam consists of 320 computerized multiple-choice questions and has a four-hour time limit. The GC component exam contains 120 questions with a one-and-a-half hour time limit, and the RHS and ICE component exams each have 100 questions with a one hour and fifteen minute time limit. The candidate must meet minimum performance standards on each of the three component exams in order to obtain CDA certification.

There are a number of pathways to become eligible to obtain the GC and CDA credentilals.  Generally, to be eligible to take the GC component exam or the full CDA exam, test candidates must have either graduated from a dental assisting or dental hygiene program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), or have completed a minimum of 3,500 hours of work experience as a dental assistant during the last two to four years. Current or former DANB certified assistants, graduates of CODA-accredited DDS or DMD programs and graduates of foreign dental degree programs may also be eligible for the exam. All candidates must also have certification in CPR from a DANB accepted provider.  For detailed information see the DANB CDA Application Packet.

There are no eligibility requirements to take the RHS and ICE exams.

Certified Orthodontic Assistant Exam (COA)

The COA exam is comprised of two component exams: the Orthodontic Assisting (OA) and the Infection Control (ICE) exams. These exams may be taken together as the COA exam, or can be taken separately to earn the credential of COA, as long as they are both successfully completed within 5 years.

The complete COA exam contains 310 multiple choice questions with a four hour time limit. The OA component exam contains 210 questions with a 2 ¾ hour time limit and the ICE component exam has 100 questions and a 1 ¼ hour time limit. Candidates must meet minimum performance standards on both component exams in order to obtain COA certification.

There are a number of ways to be considered eligible to take the OA component exam or the full COA exam:

  • A current DANB CDA, RDH or RDA credential and work experience in an orthodontic practice
  • Minimum of 3,500 hours of work experience as a dental assistant during the last two to four years
  • A current DANB CDA credential and complete an orthodontic assisting preparation course that is CODA accredited
  • be a current or former DANB COA or former DANB CDA with orthodontic practice work experience
  • be a graduate from a CODA accredited DDS or DMD program
  • Graduate from a foreign dental degree program


All candidates must also have a certification in CPR that is accepted by DANB.

As with the ICE component of the CDA exam, there are no eligibility requirements to take the COA ICE exam.

Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant Exam (CPFDA)

The CPFDA exam is comprised of four component exams: Coronal Polish (CP), Sealants (SE), Topical Anesthetic (TA) and Topical Flouride (TF) exams. These exams may be taken together as the CPFDA exam, or can be taken separately to earn the credential of CPFDA, as long as they are successfully completed within 3 years.

The complete CPFDA exam contains 250 multiple choice questions with a three and a half hour time limit. The CP component exam contains 100 questions with a 75 minute time limit and the SE, TA and TF components each have 50 questions and 45 minute time limits. Candidates must meet minimum performance standards on the component exams in order to obtain CPFDA certification.

There are a number of ways to be considered eligible to take the component exams or the full CPFDA exam:

  • A current DANB CDA status
  • be a graduate from a CODA accredited dental assistant or dental hygiene program
  • Former DANB CDA whose certification lapse is less than 2 years old with at least 3,500 work hours of experience as dental assistant in past 4 years
  • Current registered dental hygienists with at least 3,500 hours of work experience as a dental hygienist during the last four years

All candidates must also have a certification in CPR that is accepted by DANB.

Scoring

What number of questions need to be answered correctly to pass each test is not disclosed by the DANB.  The DANB states that it has an exam committee that establishes passing scores using standard psychometric procedures.

The test candidate will get preliminary results at the test center.  The DANB reports the results as pass or fail.  Those who fail may get performance ratings on each of the content areas from the test which may be helpful to plan for future  study.  The preliminary results are not considered the official results.  The official results are mailed to the test candidates two to four weeks after the exams. 

Registration

DANB certification exams are administered year round and there are no application deadlines. Pearson VUE testing centers administer all DANB exams, and the tests can be scheduled based on the most convenient date, time and location for candidates. All exams must be scheduled and completed within the 60 day eligibility window that is listed on the Test Admission Notice. Appointments to take exams may be limited, so they should be made as soon as the notice is received.

On Test Day

Candidates must bring their Test Admission Notice and either a current, valid government- or school-issued photo ID with signature to the testing center. The name on the ID must match the Test Admission Notice exactly. No reference materials will be permitted.


Interested in becoming a Certified Dental Assistant ? Check out our Dental Assistant Test Directory to find helpful materials to boost your scores. To learn more about dental assistant exams, read our interview with Zoe Najim.