Registered vs. Certified Dental Assistants

Certified vs. Registered Dental Assistants

When it comes to the dental field, there are various roles and positions that work together to ensure patients receive the best oral care possible. Two common types of dental assistants that contribute to the overall success of a dental practice are a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) and a Registered Dental Assistant (RDA). 

Each of these roles has distinct differences in terms of certification requirements, scope of work, and career opportunities. 

In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between a CDA and an RDA, highlighting the responsibilities and career paths of both. 

What Is a CDA?

A Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) is an individual who has earned certification through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). The CDA certification is the prevailing and broadly acknowledged credential in the dental assisting field. It takes approximately 9 to 12 months to get a CDA certificate. 

CDAs have a range of responsibilities within a dental practice. Their responsibilities may include:

  • Managing administrative tasks
  • Educating patients on oral hygiene
  • Assisting dentists during patient procedures
  • Performing sterilization techniques
  • Preparing and maintaining dental instruments

If you are looking to expand your knowledge and skill set or go into a specific field of dentistry, there are additional certifications for dental assistants that you can obtain.

What Is an RDA?

A Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) is a dental professional who has met the specific requirements set by the state dental board to practice as a dental assistant. Each state has its own regulations and licensing procedures. Although these vary by state, RDAs generally have a broader scope of practice compared to CDAs. 

Becoming an RDA takes approximately one year, depending on the program’s length and any state-specific requirements. RDAs may be authorized to perform duties such as:

  • Coronal polishing
  • Fluoride application
  • Sealant placement
  • Dental radiography

In certain states, registered dental assistant jobs may involve expanded functions under the direct supervision of a dentist, such as taking impressions, fabricating temporary crowns, or applying topical anesthetic.

What Is the Difference Between CDAs and RDAs?

CDAs and RDAs share similar responsibilities, with the primary distinction residing in their educational prerequisites, certification procedures, and extent of permitted tasks. It’s worth noting that the RDA designation represents the highest level of achievement among dental assistants.

Below are some of the key differences between a CDA and an RDA:

  • Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) – This is the primary certification offered by DANB and is widely recognized. To earn the CDA certification, candidates must pass three component exams: General Chairside Assisting (GC), Radiation Health and Safety (RHS), and Infection Control (ICE).
  • Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) – RDAs often need to complete a formal dental assisting program, pass a state-approved examination, and fulfill any additional requirements mandated by the state.

It’s important to note that not all states have the distinction between CDAs and RDAs. Some states use the terms interchangeably or may have different titles altogether. Therefore, it is crucial for dental professionals to understand and adhere to their respective states’ regulations regarding dental assisting.

In either case, the path to becoming a CDA or an RDA will require your commitment to continuous learning, professionalism, and patient care in order to be successful in the dynamic field of dental assisting.

CDA vs. RDA Salary 

The average salary of a CDA in the United States is $40,655 per year. An RDA has an average salary of $45,690 annually in the United States.  

While the salaries of a CDA and an RDA are similar, obtaining a higher certification can open doors for new opportunities. RDAs can become office managers and negotiate higher wages because of their experience and education.

Comparing CDAs and RDAs

Certified Dental Assistants Registered Dental Assistants
Certifying Organization
    • Dental Assisting National Boards (DANB)
    • Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA)
    • American Medical Technologists Association (AMT)
Renewal Requirements
    • Earning continuing education credits
    • Maintain your CPR certification
    • Submit the renewal fee
    • Renewal requirements vary by state
Job Responsibilities
    • Scheduling patient appointments
    • Billing and administrative work
    • Greeting patients and explaining dental care treatment plans so they feel comfortable during the appointment
    • Taking and documenting vital signs and medical history for patient records
    • Providing postoperative instructions with methods for infection control of the patient’s teeth and gums after procedures
    • Taking and developing dental x-rays
    • Fabricating temporary crowns, taking final impressions, coronal polishing, and mixing and placement of cement
    • Sterilizing instruments using autoclaves and chemical disinfectants to maintain acceptable OSHA standards
    • Repairing, adjusting, and polishing prosthetics
    • Performing tooth bleaching and sealants
    • Performing four-handed dentistry

In summary, both CDAs and RDAs play vital roles in dental practices, supporting dental hygienists, dentists, and other dental professionals to provide quality care to patients. While the specific certification and licensing requirements may differ, both types of dental assistants contribute to the efficient and effective operation of dental offices while ensuring the well-being of patients.

Take control of your dental assistant career with TempMee
Download Now