delegation, dental assistant, On the Job, Professional Identity, Scope of Practice

Medical Assistants in Dental Offices

This blog frequently discusses scope-of-practice issues, but health care always provides new questions to examine. This post will address the following: Are medical assistants permitted to work in a dental office under the authority/supervision of a dentist?

First of all, it is important to keep in mind the distinction between a dental hygienist and a dental assistant. Under the laws of all American jurisdictions, dental hygienists are required to be licensed. Licensure for dental hygienists requires graduation from a postsecondary dental hygiene academic program and the passing of a national (and in some cases, state) examination. Thus, medical assistants—including CMAs (AAMA)—are not permitted to work as dental hygienists.

Under the laws of some states, dental assistants are required to have formal education and pass a test in order to be delegated certain tasks by the overseeing/delegating dentist. Other states have no educational or testing requirements for dental assistants. A medical assistant should check with the state board of dental examiners (usually in the state capital) to find out whether the state has any educational or testing requirements for dental assistants, and whether any of the medical assisting education or credentialing can be used toward meeting any state requirements for dental assistants.

5 thoughts on “Medical Assistants in Dental Offices”

  1. Hello: I have a graduate working for a DDS, PA since 2013. Over the years he has offered MA positions in his office. The graduate now has received her RN and was still working there throughout her educational process.

  2. Thank you for copying me on this, Don. I was not aware of and had not researched the differences between dental assistants and dental hygenists.


  3. I am a CMA and currently work for a periodontist as a dental assistant. She actually prefers CMA’s because of our knowledge of the medical field and acquiring patient history. I assist during surgeries such as gum grafts, osseous procedures, crown lengthening etc. The assisting came easy for me, but I did have to learn charting and teeth numbers, etc. When I first started I would go home and google the different words I would hear throughout the day. I was basically learning a whole new terminology, but that would be no different from a CMA working in cardiology and then going to work for a gastro dr. Each specialty has its own terminology

    1. Thank you for sharing your current work situation. It is fascinating and encouraging! Your situation exemplifies how versatile CMAs (AAMA) truly are.

      Thank you again!

      Donald A. Balasa, JD, MBA
      Chief Executive Officer, Legal Counsel
      American Association of Medical Assistants
      Ph: 800/228-2262 | Fax: 312/899-1259 |
      The CMA (AAMA): Health Care’s Most Versatile Professional®

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