Best Dental Assistant Schools in California – 2024

Written By: Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH

If you are looking for an entry-level career that allows you to work with the public and do your part to help them stay healthy, a career in dental assisting is perfect for you. In California, there are almost 47,000 dental assistants working in dentists’ offices, and the demand will increase significantly in the coming years. You will need a certificate/diploma, or an associate degree to start your career, and you can find information about the best dental assistant programs in California below.

5 Things that will Make Your Dental Assistant Schooling Easier

Going back to school may seem like a daunting process, but there are things you can do to make it simpler.

1. Choose the right dental assistant school in CA. Different schools in California offer different types of programs, so be sure to choose the one that works best for your schedule and needs.

2. Take online courses where possible. Rather than attending your lectures on campus, think about joining a program that offers some or even all your coursework online.

3. Set aside time to study each day. This might be in the morning before you head off to work or in the evening while you’re winding down from the day.

4. Plan ahead. Learn more about California’s state laws as they apply to dental assisting requirements, and if possible, start scouting for jobs before you finish your program.

5. Take care of yourself. Going to school to become a dental assistant may feel challenging and stressful at times, but there are things you can do to make it easier. It is important that you take care of yourself by eating balanced meals, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep. This will go a long way toward helping you complete your program successfully.

Dental Assistant Program Length & Cost in California

It will take you anywhere from six months to two years to complete a dental assistant program in CA, and this depends on the type of program you choose. Certificate and diploma programs are shorter (and therefore more affordable) while associate degree programs are longer and cost more. Keep in mind that CA dentists prefer hiring dental assistants who have associate degrees, so while a diploma program may be cheaper and faster, it may limit your employability.

Type of Program Length Cost
Certificate / Diploma6 – 15 Months$2,990 - $34,970
Associate Degree2 Years$8,750 - $53,540


(Based on our Ranking Methodology, below are the 10 best dental assistant programs in California. The list includes both campus-based and online programs.)

1) San Joaquin Valley College, Visalia

San Joaquin Valley College’s dental assisting graduates are known to be job ready with the rigorous hands-on training that they go through. Also, the college provides for a caring environment, where students are guided all along, beginning from the admissions to finding suitable job placements.

You can enter the allied dental field with this 11-month certificate program. This coursework prepares you with the skills and knowledge required to perform routine tasks such as managing the dental office, using dental software, understanding of the oral anatomy, and dental radiology. Upon completion of the program, you will be eligible to take the state licensure exam for becoming a Registered Dental Assistant.

2) Foothill College, Los Altos Hills

Foothill College provides thorough training to aspiring dental assistants who are keen on becoming an integral part of a dental team. With a dedicated faculty and carefully designed curriculum, students graduate, ready to face the real-time challenges that this career poses.

The college offers two options, a certificate and an associate degree. The certificate can be completed in 9 months, on a full-time basis. The associate degree takes longer and gives a more rounded learning experience by incorporating general education courses. Students for both the programs start the coursework in fall. You start with core courses pertaining to dental assisting that includes an orientation to dental assisting, specialty practice procedures, dental sciences, dental radiography, dental office management, and application of fissure sealants. Students pursuing an associate degree must complete all the general education courses to graduate, usually within two years of enrollment. An externship, where students apply the professional knowledge while assisting a dentist at the UCSF School of Dentistry, forms an important component of the coursework.

3) Carrington College, Citrus Heights, Pleasant Hill, Sacramento, San Jose, San Leandro & Stockton

Carrington College, with its multiple campus options in the state, serves as a convenient option to pursue an education in dental assisting as you will find a campus nearby.

This dental assistant school in CA prepares students to work in dental offices and private and government clinics. You can acquire professional skills either by completing a certificate or associate degree program offered by the college. The certificate is a short course of less than one year, teaching you technical skills that help you understand various dental procedures that are performed at a dental clinic. On the other hand, the associate degree imparts a broader base of knowledge by including general education courses in communication skills, use of computers, science, and social sciences. Both the programs include an externship, where you will apply your professional knowledge on real-time patients.

4) American Career College, Anaheim, Los Angeles & Ontario

American Career College’s student-centric policies create a productive ambiance for dental assistant students to become proficient and elbow out the competition in the job market. The college mainly focuses on practical learning and provides students with ample practice opportunities at its dental lab. Students are helped all through, be it for arranging the 160-hour externship or finding suitable job placements, its faculty and career center play an instrumental role here.

The college offers a diploma that can be completed in 10 months. In this short duration, you will learn the skills and knowledge required to fulfill duties, ranging from managing a dentist office to patient care. Fundamentals of dental assisting, the science of dentistry, restorative dentistry, laboratory procedures, pediatric dentistry, endodontics, anesthetics, and an externship form part of the coursework.

5) Concorde Career College, San Bernardino, San Diego, Garden Grove & North Hollywood

Concorde Career College’s conveniently located campuses in Southern CA allow you to commute to college without much hassle. You may choose any location, as they all are well equipped with learning recourses and provide ample support to help dental assisting students to achieve their academic goals.

Within a short duration of eight months this diploma in dental assisting, offered by Concorde educates you with entry-level skills required for chair side assisting and front office management at a dentist office. The concise curriculum includes courses in dental terminology, dental specialties, dental materials, management of a dental clinic, dental radiology, orthodontics, and diagnostics. To hone professional skills the coursework includes an externship, locally at a dentist office. Upon completion of the program, you will be able to take the state board exam and become a registered dental assistant.

6) UEI College, Bakersfield, Fresno, Gardena, Riverside, Anaheim, Chula Vista, Encino, Huntington Park, Ontario, San Marcos, Stockton, West Covina & Sacramento

Dental assistant as a career is much in demand, and UEI College prepares you for this career with much aplomb. With 13 locations in Southern California, you could attend any campus that suits your feasibility.

To become a dental assistant in CA, you can consider this 10-month certificate program that trains you for entry-level positions in oral surgery assistant, surgical dental assistant, and orthodontic assisting. The coursework covers topics that range from dental science emergencies to chair side assisting, radiography to dental materials, preventive dentistry to dental specialties and prosthodontics and administrative duties at a dental clinic. After completing all the courses, you will be provided an externship opportunity at a local dentist’s clinic, where you will put your newly acquired professional skills to practice. Often, this opportunity translates into a placement.

7) Orange Coast College, Costa Mesa

Orange Coast College’s education for a career in dental assisting comes with an intensive preparation through class work, lab sessions and 300 hours of clinical training at the UCLA School of Dentistry and dental offices located in close vicinity.

Its certificate in dental assisting takes 48 weeks to complete. The curriculum prepares you to perform dental chairside assisting duties in a variety of settings such as private dental offices, government hospitals, specialty practices, and dental schools. The program starts in fall and courses are offered in a sequence. Before starting the program, you must complete pre-requisite courses in health occupation and medical terminology with a minimum grade “C.” For those aspiring a higher allied dental credential, some credits from this program can be transferred towards a dental hygiene degree.

8) Diablo Valley College, Pleasant Hill

Diablo Valley College provides students with a robust foundation in dental assisting with its quality education. Its on-campus dental clinic serves the community by providing low-cost dental services. Dental assistant students use this opportunity to gain valuable hands-on experience.

Diablo Valley College offers two program options, a certificate and an associate. Starting in the fall semester, each year only 24 students are admitted. The certificate program includes technical courses and takes nine months to complete. The associate takes longer as along with the technical courses; you must complete general education courses as well. To be eligible for both the programs, you must have a high school diploma and must have successfully passed a course in dental assistant orientation. For students pursuing an associate degree, nine additional units must be completed in general education courses before graduation and before applying for the licensure exam. While the coursework you receive in the certificate program provides the necessary training required for this career, the associate degree that also includes general education courses is broader in terms of knowledge and helps develop critical thinking and communication skills.

9) Pasadena City College, Pasadena

Pasadena City College provides a conducive environment for learning with its modern facilities and a dedicated faculty who help and support students all through. With clinical training at various sites, graduates are ready to kick start their dental assisting career, soon after they finish the program.

You can pursue either the certificate or associate degree offered by the college. To be eligible, you must have graduated from an accredited school with a minimum 2.0 GPA and hold a CPR certification throughout the program. To earn your certificate, you must complete a 37.5 credit coursework. The associate requires additional general education courses that help advance your career. The coursework is designed to help take various exams such as Certified Dental Assistant, Certified Orthodontic Assistant, and Registered Dental Assistant.

10) Palomar College, San Marcos

Palomar College offers one of the most affordable dental assistant programs. With an excellent faculty teaching the students, the RDA exam pass rate exceeds that of the average pass rate in the state. Also, to enhance clinical and technical skills, the college encourages students to intern at local dentist offices and gain hands-on experience.

The college offers a ten-month dental assistant certificate program in California that starts every fall. This full-time program covers coursework that teaches you to be competent in providing safe and professional dental care to patients while assisting a dentist during various dental procedures. You will learn about the dental laws and ethics, application of sealants, radiation safety, coronal polishing, infection control, besides the management and administration of a dentist office.

You can also earn an associate degree in dental assisting at Palomar by completing general education courses, in addition to the dental assistant coursework.


Dental Assistant Career Information For California - 2024

How Many Dental Assistants are Currently Employed in CA?


Where do Dental Assistants Work in California?

Dental assistants work in a variety of different settings across the state.

• Dentists’ Offices – Most of the dental assistants in CA work in dentists’ offices where they perform a wide variety of duties. They may answer telephones, schedule appointments, handle billing issues, greet patients, prepare patients for their procedures, and assist dentists during those procedures. In this setting,

• Government Facilities – A small percentage of the dental assistants across the state work in government facilities like prisons, schools, or even community health centers, where they provide both clerical and clinical assistance to dentists and dental hygienists.

• Physicians’ Offices – In some cases, dental assistants may also work in specialist physicians’ offices to help with any issues that may relate to dental problems.

In each of these settings, you will most likely work daytime hours through the week. You will rarely work weekends, holidays, or overnights unless you are employed by a 24-hour emergency dental clinic, which is rare across California.

Industry Number of Dental Assistants
Offices of Dentists50,590
Outpatient Care Centers980
Offices of Physicians980

What is the Average Salary of a Dental Assistant in California?

The average dental assistant salary in California is $48,990 a year, which is equal to $23.55 an hour. The salary can vary based on several unique factors, as well. For example, if you work for the local, state, or even federal government, you will earn more than a dental assistant who works in a small private practice dental office. Similarly, graduating an associate degree program rather than a diploma or certificate program will make you more desirable to higher-paying employers. Associate degree programs are longer and more in-depth, and this often results in better patient outcomes.

Type Salary
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Salary Based on Years of Experience

Years of Experience Hourly Monthly Annual
Less than 1 year (Starting)$17.44$3,020$36,270
1-4 years$18.47$3,200$38,410
5-9 years$22.20$3,850$46,170
10-19 years$27.51$4,770$57,220
20 years or more$30.36$5,260$63,140
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Dental Assistant Average Salary Comparison: California vs. National

As a dental assistant in CA, you will earn one of the highest salaries for this occupation in the country. Your salary will be $4,280 more than the national average, which is $48,990.

California National Difference
Number %
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Job Outlook

Your job outlook is excellent as a dental assistant, and this means as long as you work hard, you can enjoy a great deal of job security in the industry. Trends show that between the years of 2020 and 2030, employment of dental assistants in California is expected to climb by 21.06%. Right now, there are 43,200 spread across the state, but by 2030, there will be 52,300. That represents an additional 9,100 dental assistants.

There are several things driving the growth of the dental assisting occupation, but of these, increased access to affordable dental insurance is the most important. As people across CA gain access to basic dental coverage, more of them adhere to their twice-per-year exams, which drives the need for dentists and dental assistants across the state. California’s population is also growing, which creates further occupational growth in this field.

EmploymentEmployment Growth (2020-2030)
20202030 Number Percent
(Source: careeronestop)

Annual Job Openings

New Replacement Annual Job Openings (New + Replacement)
(Source: careeronestop)

Metro Wise Employment & Salary Data

California is an extremely geographically and demographically diverse state. Some areas offer rolling hills or mountains and a sparse population, but others are sprawling cities with populations in the millions. As a dental assistant, you can increase your salary by working in one of the state’s numerous densely-populated metro areas. Some of the highest paying areas include San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward ($62,830), San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara ($61,130), Santa Rosa ($56,750), Santa Maria-Santa Barbara ($54,850) and Napa ($53,280).

The reasons for the significant differences in salary from one metro to the next can be attributed to the affluence of the local area. Santa Rosa residents are mostly upper-middle-class and upper-class, which means they are willing and able to pay more for dental services provided by reputable dentists. Along those same lines, the Los Angeles-Anaheim-Long Beach metro area average salary is only $44,020 despite being the most densely-populated metro in the state. This is because many of the residents there are lower-class and receive state-funded or subsidized dental care.

Metro Employment Average Salary
Hourly Monthly Annual
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA 20,160 $21.16 $3,670 $44,020
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 5,550 $30.21 $5,240 $62,830
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 5,120 $21.85 $3,790 $45,440
San Diego-Carlsbad, CA 5,050 $23.13 $4,010 $48,110
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 3,700 $29.39 $5,090 $61,130
Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA 3,310 $23.89 $4,140 $49,690
Fresno, CA 1,390 $22.24 $3,860 $46,260
Bakersfield, CA 930 $21.87 $3,790 $45,480
Modesto, CA 900 $22.36 $3,880 $46,500
Stockton-Lodi, CA 820 $24.07 $4,170 $50,060
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 790 $22.96 $3,980 $47,760
Salinas, CA 700 $24.85 $4,310 $51,680
Santa Rosa, CA 680 $27.28 $4,730 $56,750
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 540 $25.27 $4,380 $52,560
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA 530 $26.37 $4,570 $54,850
Visalia-Porterville, CA 430 $22.08 $3,830 $45,930
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA 410 $22.75 $3,940 $47,330
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA 370 $23.95 $4,150 $49,820
Chico, CA 270 $22.48 $3,900 $46,750
Redding, CA 240 $22.02 $3,820 $45,810
Napa, CA 230 $25.62 $4,440 $53,280
Yuba City, CA 230 $24.13 $4,180 $50,180
Hanford-Corcoran, CA 200 $24.63 $4,270 $51,240
Merced, CA 190 $22.10 $3,830 $45,960
Madera, CA 160 $23.40 $4,060 $48,680
El Centro, CA 120 $24.94 $4,320 $51,880

Useful Dental Assistant Organizations & Associations in California

California Association of Dental Assisting Teachers (CADAT)

The California Association of Dental Assisting Teachers, or CADAT, is a non-profit association that works hard to promote the quality and excellence of dental assisting education across California. On the Assistants page, you can find awesome resources for things like exam data, continuing education courses, and forms to appeal failed practical exams.

California Dental Assistants Association (CDAA)

The California Dental Assistants Association, or CDAA, offers a membership to all dental assistants across the state. The group provides advocacy services, networking, education, and much more. Membership benefits include access to representation before state regulatory bodies when it comes to dental assisting issues in CA, a subscription to the CDAA Journal, opportunities to expand your network, and access to CEUs through your local society.

Pattie Trumble, MPP, MPH
Pattie Trumble is a nurse who worked in both California and New York for many years as an emergency room nurse. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics from the University of California, Berkeley, and an Associate Degree in Nursing from the Samuel Merritt Hospital School of Nursing. After 10 years of providing direct care, she went back to school and earned concurrent Master’s degrees in both public policy and public health from the University of California, Berkeley. Thereafter, she worked for various public health agencies in California at both the community and state levels providing economic and legislative analysis.

Dental Assisting Schools in other States

  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Texas
  • Washington