How Much Do Dental Assistants Make

Growth Trends for Related Jobs


Brightening Smiles Without a Degree

If you're not planning to get a college degree and would like to work in a dental office doing tasks from taking X-rays to scheduling appointments, a career as a dental assistant might make you smile. With mean hourly pay of about $18 an hour, dental assistants make considerably more than minimum wage. And the job field is expanding, making it a career opportunity to sink your teeth into.

Job Description

Dental assistants work both with patients and on administrative dental office tasks. If you're good at making people feel comfortable and calming nerves, you can put those skills to use in settling patients into the dental chair and chatting with them as you set up the area for exams and treatments. Dental assistants may teach patients oral hygiene techniques. You may work alongside dentists, sterilizing instruments and handing them to the dentist, as well as using equipment to dry patients' mouths during procedures. Rules vary by state, but in some, dental assistants can polish teeth and apply sealants, fluoride and topical anesthetic. On the business side, dental assistants schedule appointments, maintain records and help with billing and payments.

Education Requirements

Preparation for becoming a dental assistant varies widely across the country. Some states require dental assistants to become accredited by graduating from a program and passing an exam. Most programs are usually about a year long and are offered at community colleges. However, other states require just a high school diploma or a high school education, as well as CPR certification. Some dental offices employ part-time dental assistants, making it a flexible job that might allow you to get to the school bus stop on time.

Dental assistants earn a median annual salary of $37,890, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, or about $17.76 per hour. The lowest-paid 10 percent make $25,460, while those in the top 10 percent earn $52,000. If you're thinking about relocating, dental assistants in Minnesota make the highest median salary at $47,210, followed by New Hampshire and Alaska. California has the highest number of dental assistants in the country.

Want to make almost double the amount of the average dental assistant? Consider becoming a dental hygienist, who can perform more hands-on patient procedures. That job requires an associate's degree, and there are also bachelor's degrees in the field. Once the kids are in school, consider going back to school part time yourself as it will pay off quickly.

Industry Stats

By far, most dental assistants, nearly 300,000, work in dental offices, where the mean wage is $37,860. The 6,700 dental assistants that work in physician's offices earn somewhat less, at $35,650. Want to find a higher-paying job? Look for dental assistant jobs with state government, where you can earn a mean wage of $42,180, while those with the federal government can make $40,570.

Years of Experience

When you're just getting your feet wet as a dental assistant, expect to be on the lower end of the pay scale. Entry level dental assistants who have worked in the field for less than five years earn an average of $29,000, according to PayScale. Those with five to 10 years of experience make about $34,000, those with 10 to 20 years on the job can expect to earn $37,000, while the most experienced, with at least 20 years in the field, earn $40,000 or more.

Job Growth Trend

If you're looking for a job in a growing industry, the need for dental assistants is expected to grow by 19 percent between 2016 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, much faster than most other occupations. That will be due, in part, to the aging of the population, more of whom will have all their natural teeth than previous generations. Helping patients maintain their pearly whites as a dental assistant can mean decades of job stability.