What Is the Average Salary of a Dental Assistant?

Dental assisting is a career that offers competitive pay, and one that you can enter with just a high school diploma. You can learn the skills to become a dental assistant on-the-job and build experiences that can (with additional education) lead to career advancement. Read this article to learn about the job duties, education requirements, employment outlook and salary for this career. Schools offering Dental Assisting degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Duties and Responsibilities

Dental assistants work closely with dentists, but they shouldn't be confused with dental hygienists, who typically need more training. As a dental assistant, you'd update and organize patients' files, sterilize and prepare dental equipment for dental procedures and teach patients about proper dental hygiene between visits. You'd also assist dentists during procedures and may be allowed to perform laboratory tasks, such as making crowns or teeth casts.

Important Facts About Dental Assistants

On-the-Job Training Available in addition to traditional education
Key Skills Reading comprehension, clear verbal and written communication, critical thinking, customer service focused, social awareness
Work Environment Dentists offices
Similar Occupations Dental hygienists, medical assistants, pharmacy technicians, surgical technologists, occupational therapy assistants, physical therapist assistants

Training and Education Requirements

On-the-job training is available for this position, but the completion of short training programs is becoming increasingly common. Some states require dental assistants to obtain a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential through the Dental Assisting National Board (www.danb.org). During training, you will learn:

  • Dental terminology
  • Names of dental instruments
  • How to perform daily duties
  • Patient interaction

Employment Statistics and Opportunities

According to the BLS, there were 314,330 people employed as dental assistants as of 2014, and a majority of these people were employed full time. An overwhelming majority works in the offices of dentists, but some also found work in the offices of physicians and outpatient care centers. These professionals commonly become dental hygienists or dental office managers through continuing education, such as an associate's degree in dental hygiene. The BLS also predicted a positive occupational growth of 18% for between 2014-2024. This can be attributed to population growth and the fact that proper dental care is being seen as a more important personal necessity as time passes.

Salary Overview

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental assistants earned an average hourly salary of $17.43 as of May 2014 (www.bls.gov). This results in an average yearly salary of $36,260. With the median salary slightly below the average, at $35,390, the top ten percent of dental assistants earned $49,540 or more per year, while the bottom ten percent earned $24,580 or less per year. Many factors can influence the salary of a dental assistant, including industry, location, certification and experience.

Salary by Industry

The BLS reported that the top two industries employing dental assistants in May 2014 were the offices of dentists and physicians. The mean annual wages for these industries were $36,270 and $33,670, respectively. Specialty hospitals and insurance carriers paid the highest mean wages in the field, with mean salaries of $40,550 and $40,370, respectively.

Salary by Location

The BLS reported in May 2014 that the highest paying states based on mean annual wages were New Hampshire ($44,580), Alaska ($43,550), Minnesota ($43,160), Massachusetts ($41,590) and North Dakota ($40,990). Some states with lower-than-average wages included West Virginia ($29,280), Alabama ($30,650) and South Dakota ($32,480).

Salary by Experience

In September 2015, PayScale.com reported that assistants with zero to five years of experience made between $20,629 and $36,403. Those with five to ten years of experience made between $25,241 and $43,228. Those with ten to twenty years of experience made between $28,387 and $47,505. Those with 20 or more years of experience made between $30,203 and $51,124.

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