Why Penn Foster?

  • Accredited
  • Self-Paced
  • Supportive
  • Low monthly payments

Dental Assistant Program Overview

Begin your new career as a Dental Assistant in as little as five months. The need for support in dental and healthcare settings is quickly rising and dental assistant jobs are expected to increase 25% by the year 2022, much faster than average!¹

Penn Foster can help you train at home, on the go, and at a pace that's right for you. Our accredited dental assistant training program provides everything you'll need to become a vital part of a dental team, including a dental assistant exam review text that helps prepare you to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) exam. You'll also learn how to manage office operations, understand dental terminology and procedures, schedule appointments, and update patient records.

Curriculum Details

Unit 1

Starting Your Program

Succeed by learning how to use your Penn Foster program.

Objectives:

  • Understand how to use your Student Portal, including your My Homepage and My Courses pages.
  • Access the Penn Foster Community and use it to find answers.
  • Connect with Penn Foster on various social media sites.
Introduction to Dentistry and the Dental Assistant

This lesson introduces you to dentistry, dental assisting, and being a part of the dental team.

Objectives:

  • Identify early developments and major contributors to dentistry from early times through the Renaissance period.
  • Identify members of the dental health team.
  • List the various tasks that may be performed by the auxiliary personnel.
  • Explain the personal qualifications required of a dental assistant.
  • Describe the different areas of a dental office and the role of the dental assistant in each of these areas.

Unit 2

Dental Terminology and Anatomy

In this lesson, you’ll learn about the oral cavity, parts of the teeth, and the types of teeth.

Objectives:

  • Define, pronounce, and use dental terminology correctly.
  • Know the anatomy of the mouth and identify various parts of the mouth, neck, and throat.
  • Describe the structure of the tooth.
  • Name the types of teeth, their functions, surfaces, and classification as either anterior or posterior teeth.
Preventive Dentistry and Nutrition

In this lesson, you’ll learn about preventive dentistry and the role of good nutrition in maintaining dental health.

Objectives:

  • State the primary goal of preventive dentistry.
  • Discuss dental plaque and calculus and their role in causing dental disease.
  • Explain the use of fluorides.
  • Explain how to instruct a patient in home-care techniques.
  • Explain the role of nutrition in preventive dentistry.

Unit 3

Cavity Classification and Charting

This lesson presents some dental assistant basics.

Objectives:

  • Identify the types of questions asked on the medical and dental history forms.
  • List medical conditions and their importance in dental treatment.
  • Explain what vital signs are, how to take them, and how to record the results.
  • Use and interpret the different charting symbols.
  • Identify permanent (adult) and deciduous (baby) teeth using three different systems.
  • Explain Black’s system of cavity classification.
Dental Law and Ethics

In this lesson, you’ll learn the laws and rules of dentistry and what it means to act in an ethical manner.

Objectives:

  • Describe the basics of dental jurisprudence and ethical behavior.
  • Describe what constitutes malpractice.
  • Discuss the elements and principles of ethical decision making.
  • Think critically about ethical issues in dentistry.
  • Describe what HIPAA is, its purpose, and noncompliance penalties.
  • Explain the differences between privacy, confidentiality, and security.
Additional Unit Material

Learning Aid: Diagrams I

Unit 4

Dental Operatory: Patients, Instrumentation, Moisture Control

In this lesson, you’ll learn about the different instruments and pieces of equipment typically found in a dental operatory.

Objectives:

  • Identify and understand the use of the major pieces of equipment found in a dental operatory.
  • Explain the correct seated position of the operator and assistant at chairside.
  • Demonstrate how to pass instruments in the position of use.
  • Recognize at least 10 hand instruments and explain their functions.
  • Describe the major functions of rotary instruments, both high and low speeds.
  • Explain the moisture control procedures and their purpose.
Disease Transmission, Pathology, and Dental Emergencies

In this lesson, you’ll study the microorganisms that cause disease and how they’re transmitted, oral pathology, and emergencies that you’re most likely to encounter in the dental office.

Objectives:

  • Describe three types of microorganisms that are of concern in the dental setting.
  • List the two most common classifications of bacteria found in the oral cavity.
  • Define many terms related to oral pathology.
  • Name the most common emergencies in dental offices.
  • Help the dental team deal with many types of emergencies.
Infection Control

You’ll learn about infection control procedures, personal attire, protective barriers, sterilization and disinfection procedures, and why they’re so important in the dental office.

Objectives:

  • Define cleanliness, decontamination, disinfection, and sterilization.
  • Explain the Universal Precautions that are to be taken with every patient.
  • Explain the protective barriers used in the treatment room.
  • Identify the preferred means of sterilization and/or disinfection for items and equipment found in the dental office.
  • Describe proper hand-washing and gloving procedures.
Additional Unit Materials

Learning Aids:

  • Glasses
  • Mouth mirror
  • Bur samples
  • Evacuator tips samples
  • Air/water syringe tip samples
  • Cotton roll samples
  • Rubber dam material sample
  • Napkin and bib clip
  • Hu-Friedy Procedural Setup Guide
  • Diagrams II and III
  • Sample cleaning packets
  • Gloves
  • Mask sample

Unit 5

OSHA Regulations

This lesson introduces you to the OSHA regulations that are intended to minimize employee illness and debilitation due to accidents and disease encountered in the workplace.

Objectives:

  • Explain the OSHA regulations relating to the dental office.
  • Develop a plan to implement the bloodborne pathogens standard.
  • Understand infection control requirements.
  • Explain how to evaluate workplace hazards.
  • Discuss how to conduct an OSHA training session.
  • Describe critical dental office protective procedures and hazard management.
Radiology 1

This lesson will introduce you to radiology.

Objectives:

  • List the hazards and benefits of x-rays.
  • Describe cell radiosensitivity and the effects of radiation on cells.
  • Define the ALARA principle.
  • List the three types of radiation produced by the machine and their hazards.
  • Discuss dental film sizes, speeds, components, and storage.
  • Discuss the types of dental radiographs, why each is taken, and the legal aspects of dental films.
Radiology 2

Your radiology education continues with a more in-depth lesson.

Objectives:

  • Describe the properties of a quality diagnostic radiograph.
  • Discuss how to prevent common faults in radiographs.
  • Describe how to expose radiographs using the bisecting angle technique.
  • Describe the procedures used to expose extraoral films.
  • Discuss infection control procedures used in the radiographic process.
  • Describe the manual, automatic, and instant processing methods for radiographs.
Additional Unit Materials
  • Learning Aid: Pronunciation audio files
  • Learning Aid: Diagrams IV

Unit 6

Pharmacology and Anesthesiology

This lesson will introduce you to basic pharmacology and its relationship to the dental profession.

Objectives:

  • Describe the use of drugs in the dental practice.
  • Discuss the legalities and precautions of handling drugs in the dental office.
  • Explain the components and uses of topical and local anesthetic agents.
  • Specify the different methods of administering local anesthesia.
  • Explain how to prepare an anesthetic syringe and detail the methods of safely recapping after use.
  • Describe the use of nitrous oxide, and list the hazards and precautions in its use.
Dental Materials, Part 1

In this lesson, you’ll learn about dental materials and how they're used in restorations.

Objectives:

  • Discuss both the factors that affect dental materials and the properties of dental materials.
  • Distinguish between the different types of dental cements and discuss their use.
  • Describe dental amalgam, including its components and mixing procedures.
  • Identify the principles of cavity preparation and the different cavity classifications.
  • Explain the purpose of a matrix band, retainer, and wedge.
  • List the steps for completing an amalgam restoration.
  • Explain what a composite material is, its use, and setting methods.
Dental Materials, Part 2

In this lesson, you’ll continue to learn more about dental materials.

Objectives:

  • Compare impression materials that are used in the dental office.
  • Explain the water/powder ratio, setting time, setting expansion, and final strength of each type of dental gypsum product.
  • Explain the characteristics and uses of inlay, baseplate, sticky, boxing, and utility waxes.
  • Explain how to construct a custom tray, its purpose, and the materials used.
  • Explain the purpose of a bite registration.
  • Describe how to trim a stone or plaster cast for general and orthodontic uses.
Additional Unit Materials
  • Learning Aid: Diagrams V
  • Learning Aid: Dental mixes

Unit 7

Dental Specialties 1: Endodontics/Periodontics

In this lesson, you’ll cover endodontics and periodontics—the field of dentistry that deals with the tissues that surround the teeth.

Objectives:

  • Describe the types and causes of pulpitis and other endodontic conditions.
  • List the methods used to diagnose endodontic conditions.
  • Recognize the most common endodontic instruments.
  • Define the types of endodontic procedures.
  • Identify the location and significance of the tissues of the periodontium.
  • Specify the different forms of periodontal disease.
  • Describe the procedures involved in initial periodontal. 
  • Recognize periodontal surgical instruments.
  • Explain the importance of maintenance and plaque control in periodontal therapy.
Dental Specialties 2: Pediatric Dentistry/Orthodontics

This lesson will introduce you to the specialties of pediatric dentistry and orthodontics.

Objectives:

  • Define pediatric dentistry.
  • Describe the office and instruments used in pediatric dentistry offices.
  • Explain emergency procedures in the pediatric dentist’s office.
  • Identify the office, instruments, and procedures used in an orthodontic practice.
  • Outline the principles of tooth movement, banding, retainers, and other appliances.
Dental Specialties 3: Prosthodontics/Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery

This lesson will introduce you to the specialties of prosthodontics and oral and maxillofacial surgery.

Objectives:

  • List the procedures performed in a prosthodontic office.
  • Describe the different types of appliances used in the mouth.
  • Explain the procedures performed in oral surgery, the instruments used, and the importance of infection control.

Unit 8

Communicating in the Dental Office

In this lesson, you’ll be introduced to the communication elements present in the dental office.

Objectives:

  • Explain what “first impression” means to the public entering your office.
  • Develop communication skills and problem-solving techniques.
  • Explain the techniques used to greet the patients.
  • Describe the eight levels of relating to others.
  • Identify eight ways to resolve conflict.
  • Describe how to monitor and assess dental fears.
Business Administration for the Dental Assistant

This lesson is designed to assist you in competently handling the business affairs of a dental office.

Objectives:

  • Describe the proper way to greet a patient in person and on the telephone.
  • Name the types of filing systems.
  • Outline different methods for recalling patients for checkups and follow-up care.
  • Define the terms accounts receivable and accounts payable bookkeeping.
  • List the five parts of a bookkeeping system.
  • List three guidelines for storing supplies.
Additional Unit Materials

Textbook: Business Administration for the Dental Assistant

Unit 9

Becoming a Professional

In this lesson, you’ll learn about the details of obtaining a job, as well as the way you need to prepare yourself in both knowledge and appearance for maximum results.

Objectives:

  • Explain the key components of a uniform.
  • List some of the professional organizations of which you may become a member.
  • Write a cover letter and a résumé.
  • Describe the elements of a professional appearance.
Practice Management Software

In this lesson, you’ll learn how you can use the Practice-Web Dental Software program in a real work environment to help you complete your day-to-day tasks.

Objectives:

  • Schedule and view appointments.
  • Arrange payment plans.
  • Create insurance claims.
  • Create a Perio Chart.
  • Scan and view images.
  • Manage patients’ accounts.
  • Send an e-claim.
Additional Unit Material

Learning Aid: Practice Web Software

Online Supplements
  • Work Experience Option
  • Learning Contract and Student Evaluation

Graduation Gift

When you graduate...

When you graduate, you'll receive

(Sent to you when all program requirements and financial obligations have been met.)

Textbook: Success for the Dental Assistant 


Computer Specifications
You will need high-speed internet access to begin your program. You will need access to a Microsoft® Windows® based computer running Windows XP® or later or an Apple® Mac® computer running OS X® or later, and an email account to complete your program with Penn Foster.

We reserve the right to change program content and materials when it becomes necessary.
Microsoft and Windows are trademarks of Microsoft Corporation registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.
Apple, Mac, and OS X are trademarks of Apple, Inc registered in the United States of America and/or other jurisdictions.

Sample Lesson

To view a Dental Assistant sample lesson, click here.

Dental Assistant Program Outline

Penn Foster will help you gain the knowledge and skills you need to:

  • Assist dentists with lab tasks and procedures
  • Communicate with and instruct patients in proper dental hygiene
  • Disinfect dental tools properly
  • Manage a dental office

State Requirements

Please review your state board requirements that are applicable to your field of study. State boards may impose a variety of different requirements. This is particularly important for residents of Florida and New York.

Here are a few qualities that dependable dental assistants have in common:

  • Sociable: Spending time with others is fun and rewarding.
  • Detail oriented: It’s important to have a sharp eye and check things twice.
  • Friendly: You make others feel welcomed and relaxed in potentially stressful situations.
  • Reliable: Patients and dentists can rely on you to work hard and perform consistently.

After earning my Dental Assistant Career Diploma, I feel much more competent in the office. Penn Foster is definitely worth the money. I am now going to college to become a dentist. I believe that taking this program really helped me stand out among my competition.

- Sara T., Dental Assistant Graduate

Penn Foster is a great way to learn something thoroughly. I have used everything I have learned. I recommend Penn Foster to anyone. They were always very timely and explained everything extremely well.

- Erin M., Dental Assistant Graduate

Penn Foster gives you a reasonable amount of time to graduate without deadlines for your work to be done. The Penn Foster faculty is very helpful and made it a great experience for me.

- Cassie B., Dental Assistant Graduate

We make sure you have everything you need:

  • Graduate debt free with 0% interest
  • Books and learning aids, including slides, dental equipment samples, and your dental assistant exam review text upon graduation
  • Study Planner App to customize your study plans and keep track of your progress
  • Instructional support from our world-class faculty
  • Access 24/7 to Penn Foster’s online campus, plus immediate membership in the Dental Assistant academic group
  • Your personalized online student homepage and learning portal
  • Additional resources such as our online library and career guidance from Career Cruising

Does Penn Foster’s program help dental assistant students prepare for any certification exams?

Yes, Penn Foster assists students in preparing for the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) exam. Our students are eligible upon graduation to sit for the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), Infection Control (ICE), and Radiation & Safety (RHS) exams as part of the 3-exam process, to use the DANB designation of Certified Dental Assistant. The final requirement for this certification is a general chair side exam, and a graduate would be required to accumulate 3500 hours of work experience (roughly 2-4 years) prior to sitting for that part.

Is an externship required to complete the Dental Assistant Program?

No, an externship is not required to complete the program. However, we have included a Work Experience Option where students can make arrangements with a facility in their area to work alongside dental professionals and gain valuable hands-on experience. While not required for graduation, we do highly recommend that our students complete this program supplement.

More FAQs >

¹ Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook," 2014-15 Edition, Dental Assistants, on the Internet here.

Find us on Google+