You probably already know, dental assisting is one of the hottest jobs in healthcare right now. With a growth rate of 25%, it’s a fast growing field, with more than 300,000 hired hands in the US in 2012 and still looking for more. (There are about 80,000 annual job openings by the way!) So why might you consider a job in dental assisting? Besides a good dental assistant salary, there are also minimal requirements for entry, lots of variety, flexibility in schedule, and lots of job satisfaction.

Dental Assistant Salary

annual dental assistant salary bell curveSo you’re probably wondering how much do dental assistants make. The average median dental assistant salary is right around $33,600 per year, which amounts to $16.09 per hour. The low 10% can expect a $25,857 salary while the top 10% can expect a salary of $41,158 or more.

The dental assistant salary is largely due to the minimal requirements needed for entry. Compared to a dental hygienist or a dentist, you don’t need years of formal training to start. In fact, most dental assistants only have a high school diploma!

Below you can find an interactive map with dental assistant salary by state. Hover over individual states to find out more information, play around with it, do whatever you want!

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Worth mentioning is that the salary for dental assistants can vary by state, city, and level of experience. For example, the highest paying cities are Manchester, NH, San Francisco, CA, Barnstable Town, MA, Anchorage, AK, and Minneapolis, MN. How much do dental assistants make in urban vs rural areas? The difference is often more than $10,000 a year! Yes, those living in urban settings often have the potential to make much more.

Dental assistants can also make more by becoming certified, which is a fancy way of saying nationally recognized. If certified, you can expect to earn an average of $2.01 more than non-certified dental assistants, with the average making $36,670 a year.

You can find out more about dental assistant salary here.

Dental Assistant Job Description

Let’s run through what the job is. A typical day might include:

  • Preparing medications.
  • Sterilizing/preparing dental instruments.
  • Taking X-rays.
  • Record keeping.
  • Assisting the dentist with oral surgery.
  • Instructing patients.
  • Helping patients feel comfortable.

Dental assistant duties can vary by office and state, but are usually among those listed above. The majority of dental assistants work in dental offices but some are employed in Federal and State government offices. Dental offices usually have less than 100 staff members so the work of dental assistants are key to the entire office. Their jobs revolve very closely around dentists, and are crucial for providing efficiency.

You can find out more about job descriptions here.

Dental Assistant Requirements

As far as requirements go, in most states employers don’t require formal education. Sounds pretty casual, doesn’t it? About 78% of dental assistants only have a high school degree with roughly 33% having experience of less than 1 year. 23% with 2-5 years, 18% with 5-10 years, and 11% having 10-15 years. Most assistants receive skills on the job, although some states might require some guidelines to be met. It really depends on the state you live in though, which is why you should learn more about your state’s requirements. You can find out what individual states require here or check the map below.

You can learn more about dental assistant requirements here.

Dental Assistant Training

Dental assistant training in most states is not mandatory, but often recommended. Besides gaining more trust and credibility among employers, there are also additional benefits such as a higher salary, expanded functions, and an edge against the competition. It can be a worthwhile decision in the long run, but is ultimately up to you.

Dental assistant programs can vary anywhere between 9 months to 2 years depending on whether you would like to receive a certificate or associate’s degree. Programs can be sought after in dental assistant schools, community colleges, and technical schools. If you do decide on formal training, make sure the dental assisting program you choose is CODA accredited as this will allow you to receive a recognized certificate of completion.

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You can learn more about dental assistant training here.

Dental Assistant Advancement Opportunities

Pursuing a job as a dental assistant can be great experience down the line if you are interested in dentistry. Because dental assisting requires minimal qualifications, it can serve as a glimpse into the field if you choose to pursue a more advanced position. Lots of assistants go on to become dental hygienists and even dentists! 

If you are already an assistant, you can always take it a step further and become a registered/certified dental assistant (RDA/CDA) and earn a higher dental assistant salary. Becoming registered refers to state recognition while becoming certified refers to national recognition. This can allow you to perform expanded functions as well as receive additional benefits, such as a higher dental assistant salary. Besides that, there are even options of becoming dental assistant instructors, dental product sales representatives, or office managers if you are willing to work in those areas. 

You can find out more about advancement opportunities here.
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