What is the Average Dental Assistant Salary?

DentalPost takes a look at the average Dental Assistant salary across the United States, including expectations, benefits, and career outlook.

If you’re looking for a career that doesn’t require several years of college, offers good job growth, and allows you to work in a medical setting where you can provide patient care, you might want to consider dental assisting. Dental assistants typically work in a dental office but may work for one dentist or as part of a dental team consisting of several dentists. While the salary you earn as a dental assistant may depend on the years experience you have, this career offers the potential to make a very good wage. 

What Can Affect Dental Assistant Wages

Wages tend to be promising because qualified dental assistants are in high demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a job growth of 11 percent for these professionals between 2018 and 2028, which can result in about 38,700 new dental assistant jobs created by 2028. Other factors that can affect wages include experience, number of certifications, the employer, and geographic location.

Average Wages for a Dental Assistant

The average wage or salary for a dental assistant will depend on several factors, including whether you have many years of experience or are working in an entry-level position. The BLS reports that as of May 2019, dental assistants nationwide earned an average annual wage of $41,170 with wages ranging from about $27,980 to $56,930 or more. The average hourly wage was about $19.79.

How Location Affects Dental Assistant Wages

In the same way that geographic location can affect the cost of living, it can also affect wage potential, and this includes wages for a dental assistant. Wages can vary quite a bit from one state to the next state. The five states where these dental care professionals earned the highest average annual wages in 2019, according to the bureau, include:

•    Minnesota – $52,220

•    Alaska – $49,350

•    New Hampshire – $49,280

•    Massachusetts – $48,770 

•    North Dakota – $47,140

States where dental assistants earned the lowest average annual wages include:

•    Mississippi – $32,770

•    Utah – $32,740

•    West Virginia – $32,710

•    Louisiana – $33,300 

•    Alabama – $33,390

In the same way that wages fluctuate from state to state, they also vary from city to city. Here are some of the metropolitan top-paying towns for a dental assistant in the United States, along with the average annual wages in 2019.

•    San Francisco – Oakland – Hayward, CA – $51,510

•    New York – Newark – Jersey City, NY – NJ – PA – $42,580

•    Dallas – Fort Worth – Arlington, TX – $41,930

•    Chicago – Naperville – Elgin, IL, IN, WI – $41,030

•    Los Angeles – Long Beach-Anaheim, CA – $39,900

•    Houston – The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX – $36,490

Industries Where Dental Assistants Work

Of the 351,471 dental assistants employed in the United States in 2019, 317,690 worked in a dentist’s office. The remaining worked in physician’s offices, outpatient clinics, employment services, the federal executive branch of the government, and ambulatory health care services. There are a variety of dental assistant jobs located throughout the nation, including part-time positions. Because of the excellent job growth potential, this profession can easily be a very lucrative choice for the right candidate.

How to Become a Dental Assistant

One of the things that makes the dental assistant job such a popular choice is that it doesn’t require years of education and training. Unlike the dental hygienist program that takes three years to complete, the dental assistant program takes a year or less. Although some dental assistants choose to complete a two-year dental assisting program, it’s not required. Graduating from the program will make you a Registered Dental Assistant, or RDA, which will command a higher income.

You can become a dental assistant by completing a diploma or certificate program. Depending on the dental office, you may even be hired with only a high school diploma and receive on-the-job training. If you decide to complete a formal training program, it’s essential to choose one that the Commission accredits on Dental Accreditation (CODA), especially if you want to be an RDA.

The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that the CODA accredits about 270 dental assistant programs in the United States. If you choose to complete a formal training program, you can blend a coursework curriculum, laboratory studies, and on-the-job training in a dental office. Depending on the state in which you wish to work, you may also be required to become certified or registered.

You can choose to become state-certified or nationally certified. To become nationally certified, you’ll have to pass the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) exam, a competency examination administered through the Dental Assisting National Board. State certification requires taking a state-administered exam and results in earning the credential of RDA. Whether you need certification or registration depends on the state in which you wish to work.

Working in a Dental Practice

Dental assistants work alongside dentists as they perform their work on patients. If you choose this profession, you’ll be a team member assisting dentists by handing instruments while the dentist performs dental procedures like sealants, fillings, and similar types of patient care. You may also spend some time in the front office performing administrative duties, including answering phones, scheduling appointments, filing, and related office work. Examples of what other responsibilities may include:

•    Preparing patients for their dental procedures

•    Ensuring patients are comfortable and relaxed in their chair

•    Sterilizing instruments

•    Scheduling appointments

•    Documenting patient treatment plans

•    Drying patient’s mouth with suctioning tool

•    Handing dental instruments to the dentist

•    Assisting patients with payments and billing

•    Taking and processing x-rays 

•    Speak with the patient’s family regarding treatment 

•    Preparing the work area for treatment and procedures

Obtaining Dental Assistant Jobs

Upon completing a dental assistant training program and obtaining certification, which might be state-required, you may find it beneficial to sign up for an account with DentalPost. DentalPost is a leading online job board available to professional dental workers in the United States and Canada.

DentalPost also considers the number of years of experience you have and if you want to work full-time or part-time. Our site helps match your profile with ideal dental assistant jobs.

Being a team member in a dental practice can be a fulfilling long-term career. You’ll be taking care of patients while working chair-side with highly trained professionals. DentalPost can help match you as a qualified dental assistant to a position that best meets your qualifications and skills.

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