How Has Removing the RDA Practical State Exam Affected the Future of Dental Assistants?

Based on a review conducted by the Office of Professional Examination Services (OPES) of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) on the Registered Dental Assistant (RDA) practical examination, the Dental Board of California decided to suspend the test. The reasoning was that the RDA practical examination was too hard and had experienced multiple years of low pass rates.

Under the Business and Professions Code Section 1752.1, this suspension of the RDA practical examination would only remain in effect until July 2017. Nevertheless, the Board sought an author to draft the necessary legislation that would extend the suspension until January 1st, 2020. In August 2017, Governor Brown signed the Assembly Bill 1707 (Chapter 174), authored by Assembly Member – Evan Low, into law, extending the suspension of the examination until the beginning of 2020.

What Has Since Happened?

The legislation states that those looking to become Registered Dental Assistants will still have to pass the RDA Law and Ethics as well as the RDA Written examinations. While the first one will test the candidates’ understanding of personal responsibility in the dental office, the other one will measure their theoretical knowledge on the exact procedures.

Also, the Office of Professional Examination Services (OPES) has implied that the suspension of RDA practical examination poses a relatively low risk of inflicting any public harm. The reasoning is that, as long as the dental assistants are under the full authority and supervision of the dentists when conducting their duties, it is the dentists who are responsible for the quality of care provided, as well as for any accidents that may happen.

What Were the Negative Impacts of Removing the RDA Practical State Exam?

While at first glance this may sound like good news for the people involved and those who had to take the examination, there have certainly been some significant drawbacks. For instance, those who have already made the RDA practical exam before its suspension, as well as those who have already gained some practical experience in the field, have had to suffer.

The facts are: the RDA practical exam was unbiased and genuinely made a difference between those who were ready to practice as dental assistants and those who were not. It’s one thing to know the theoretical part, and totally another to perform. It is regardless of whether dental assistants are under the direct supervision of dentists or not.

In any case, due to the sudden drop in quality and proficiency, coupled with an increase of dental assistants that were no longer required to pass the practical examination, the average salary has dropped.

It should go without saying that even those with practical experience on the job as well as those who took the practical examination had seen a drop in pay or were faced with lower wages when looking for a role in the field. Somewhat ironically, the RDAEF2 practical exam is still in use, meaning that the RDA examination should have been too.


The point that even though the RDA practical exam had low pass rates, it was an examination that truly made the difference when putting in practice. Without it, however, there may be more registered dental assistants, but their quality of work has dropped, lowering the salary of everyone else by default. It’s the natural law of supply and demand.

If you want to keep yourself informed on the issue as well as other changes that may occur, please feel free to register with the Dental Specialties Institute, Inc. Visit our website to get more information on Dental Laws and Regulations in California, or consider taking a certified course to advance your career. The Dental Specialties Institute, Inc. is at your service.