What is an RDA? Certified Dental Assistant vs Registered Dental Assistant

Dental assistants at work

Dentists hire any type of support staff to help keep their patients’ teeth healthy and clean. Some of the support staff includes RDAs and CDAs. If you are interested in becoming an RDA or CDA, it is important to understand the differences between the two jobs.

What Is an RDA?

An RDA is a registered dental assistant. An RDA works in a dental office and helps the office operate efficiently. They must have specific licenses and registrations to perform their job duties legally. RDAs must take state licensing exams to prove that they understand their job abilities, so they can give their patients the best dental health possible.

Many RDAs have entry-level experience in the dental assistant field, but others become CDAs before pursuing the RDA license. RDAs have more responsibility than a CDA, and typically are less supervised.

What Is a CDA?

A CDA is a certified dental assistant. They specialize in dental support and must receive certification from the Dental Assisting National Board before they can legally perform their job duties. A CDA helps take care of dental patients while completing organized job requirements.

CDAs are required to complete an exam testing the knowledge they learned throughout their coursework. Then, they must apply that knowledge to their dental assisting. Most CDAs need more job experience before starting their courses. Some CDAs might have worked as unlicensed or supervised dental assistants with an entry-level job.

What Are the Differences Between an RDA and CDA?

There are some differences between an RDA and CDA and their job requirements.

Professional Credentials

One of the most significant differences between an RDA and a CDA is the professional credentials each requires. RDAs often have a state license, and sometimes hold a national certification.

The state license allows the state to regulate the knowledge and abilities of the RDA, while the national certification covers nationwide regulations. Having the proper licensure allows an RDA to ensure they thoroughly understand their job qualifications and how to best care for their patients.

A CDA might only have a national certification but can specialize in a particular area, such as preventative dentistry or orthodontics. Tense types of certifications are helpful for CDAs that want to work in more than one state, as they can transfer their credentials.


RDAs and CDAs go through different types of training. While the training courses can differ depending on the state, RDAs typically have more training and education requirements than a CDA. Most RDAs are required to participate in classes to pass their state exam, which can take as long as one year.

CDAs have different training requirements because they are certified by the national board. Since CDAs have national certification, the educational and experience requirements are the same across all states in the US.

State Requirements

While titles and requirements differ for all dental assistants depending on the state, there are some regular differences between CDAs and RDAs. An RDA can work in the state they are licensed in, but only some states require licensure. Some states require registered dental assistants, while others do not require a license.

Some states require that you must first become a CDA before becoming an RDA, but others do not. CDAs can practice dental assisting in any state that accepts dental assisting certification. This makes it simple for a CDA to transfer to another state.

Dental assistant assisting a Dentist

What Are an RDA’s Job Responsibilities?

RDAs are required to perform the following job duties:

  • Dental office preparation
  • Instrument disinfection and sterilization
  • Flouride treatments
  • Obtaining patient’s dental records
  • Maintenance of patient charts
  • Patient education on oral care
  • Insurance forms management
  • Billing Management
  • Preparing X-Ray machines, anesthetics, cement, and impression materials
  • Providing and handling instruments during procedures
  • Patient scheduling and handling
  • Dental maintenance and supply record

What Is the Salary of an RDA vs CDA?

The average salary of a registered dental assistant in the United States is between $36,000 and $53,000 per year. A CDA has an average salary of around $40,655 per year in the United States.

While the salaries are similar, RDAs have more opportunities within their career. An RDA has the potential to become an office manager, and they can assign duties to other dental assistants because of their experience and education.

Final Thoughts

If you are interested in becoming a CDA or RDA, The Howard Healthcare Academy can help make your career goals a reality. You can complete our dental assistant program in as little as ten months to become eligible to take the state exam.

Learn more about our Dental Assistant course at Howard Academy.

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