What is the average dental assistant salary?

DentalPost's recent salary survey discovered that nearly 50% of dental assistants are not satisfied with their pay. Find out how your compensation ranks.

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Average Dental Assistant Salary by State

StateEmployed Dental AssistantsAverage Hourly WageAverage Annual Salary
District of Columbia590$22.09$45,950
New Hampshire1,380$23.79$49,470
New Jersey9,140$21.14$43,980
New Mexico2,540$18.17$37,790
New York19,930$21.59$44,910
North Carolina10,680$21.31$44,320
North Dakota780$22.97$47,780
Rhode Island620$22.15$46,070
South Carolina4,980$19.29$40,120
South Dakota890$20.20$42,010
West Virginia1,450$17.71$36,830

All data above was collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and is updated as of May 2021.

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 2020, dental assistants nationwide earned an average annual wage of $42,310 with wages ranging from about $34,470 to $49,810 or more. The average hourly wage was about $20.34.

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 2020, according to the bureau, include:

  • Minnesota - $53,670
  • Massachusetts - $51,750
  • Alaska - $51,230
  • New Hampshire - $50,820
  • Oregon – $48,320

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

  • Mississippi - $31,930
  • West Virginia - $32,240
  • Alabama - $33,510
  • Utah - $34,850
  • Louisiana - $34,600

In the same way that wages fluctuate from state to state, they also vary from city to city. Here are some of the top-paying metropolitan cities for a dental assistant in the United States, along with the average annual wages in 2020.

  • Santa Francisco, CA - $53,510
  • Minneapolis, MN - $56,240
  • Boston, MA - $53,250
  • Atlanta, GA - $43,390
  • Dallas, TX - $43,110
  • Miami, FL - $40,250

Industries Where Dental Assistants Work

Of the 312,140 dental assistants employed in the United States in 2020, 279,850 were employed in a dentist's office. The remaining worked in physician's offices, outpatient clinics, employment services, the federal executive branch of the government, and for 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, which takes three years to complete, the dental assistant program may be completed in a year or less. Although some dental assistants choose to complete a two-year dental assisting program, it's not required. This will make you a Registered Dental Assistant, or RDA, which will command 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 do decide to complete a formal training program, it's essential to choose one that's accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation. This is even more essential if you want to be and 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 curriculum of coursework, 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 takes into consideration the number of years experience you have as well as 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 chairside with highly trained professionals. DentalPost can help match you as a qualified dental assistant to a position that best meets your qualifications and skills.