Dental Assistant Salary Career as a Dental Assistant

By Diane Turner

Dental assistants will be expected to take on many tasks within a dental office. Specific duties will vary based on the needs of the office, which will in turn the salary of a dental assistant. The tasks a dental assistant is expected to take on will also depend on the size of the office. Smaller offices will depend more on the staff they have to manage their tasks, while larger offices will be able to delegate their tasks more evenly amongst other team members. Dental assistants may be asked to keep records, schedule appointments, manage billing and payments, sterilize dental instruments, prepare the work area for patients, assist dentists during procedures, make patients comfortable and prepare them for treatment.

Dental assistants with more training may be able to take on a few dental tasks of their own. This can include fluoride or sealant application, topical anesthetic application or coronal polishing. Theaverage salary of a dental assistantthat can take on these tasks will likely be higher because these individuals will likely need more training to manage these tasks effectively.

The process of becoming a dental assistant will vary by location. Some states allow high school students who have adequately studied anatomy, biology and chemistry to take on these tasks. Others may require students to join an accredited program to get the necessary training to work as a dental assistant. Many community colleges offer such programs. Look for a program that is certified by the Commission on Dental Accreditation to ensure that you will have the training you need to perform any necessary tasks adequately.

It is not uncommon for dental students to work as a dental assistant while they are finishing their education or while they are gaining experience in the field. Those who are not planning on adding to their dental education should check to see if they will need to complete a certification exam to continue working as a dental assistant. States that require this exam will provide it through the Dental Assisting National Board. You can check here for any training or educational requirements you may need to meet before taking your board exam.

Dental Assistant Average Salary

The average salary for a dental assistantis $34,740. While this can be a general indicator for how much you can make as a dental assistant, there are a few factors that will influence the salary for a given employee. In most cases the amount a dental assistant can make will depend on the area where they are employed.

Dental Assistant Salary Factors and Influences

The average dental assistant salary is determined by a wide variety of factors. One of the largest influences on the salary a dental assistant can earn is the type of office they work in. Noted below are the top employers of dental assistants along with their average salary.

Federal Executive Branch: $38,180

Employment Services: $34,990

Offices of Dentists: $34,710

Offices of Physicians: $32,740

Colleges, Universities and Professional Schools: $33,790

There is a noticeable difference in salary levels here, which is largely due to the vast difference in the type of tasks the dental assistant will be expected to take on while on the job. Universities and colleges, for example, will largely expect dental assistants to participate in the teaching process while those working in a traditional office will take on tasks more commonly associated with the dental profession.

While these may be the top employers in the industry, they are not necessarily the highest paying employers. Those that are willing to work in a more advanced office setting may be able to earn a higher wage. Note the average salary of a dental assistant for the highest paying offices.

Insurance Carriers Average Salary: $40,940

Specialty Hospitals (excluding substance abuse and psychiatric facilities) Average Salary: $39,040

Federal Executive Branch Average Salary: $38,180

State Government Average Salary: $36,790

General Medical and Surgical Hospital Average Salary: $36,340

As you can see, these offices all pay more than the average salary for dental assistants. This is largely because offices that are funded through these industries will have more funding than offices that will be dependent on patient payments to make a profit. Offices funded through government agencies or hospitals are also more likely to see a larger number of patients, increasing the amount of dental assistants they will need to get the job done. These facilities will be able to pay their staff a better wage because they are typically taking in more patients than surrounding offices, if there are other offices in the area.

It should also be noted that the salary for a dental assistant working at a specialty hospital or in a surgical facility will likely be asked to take on more responsibilities while on the job. This can mean that you will be asked to take on more training, either through a certified dental assistant program or while on the job. You will need to research the specific requirements for the dental programs in your area so you can plan your training accordingly. The list of requirements for your area should be available through your training program or the certification boards for your area.

Another factor that must be considered to fully understand the average wage for dental assistants is the amount of hours these professionals work. As many as two in five dental assistants are only working part time, which means they are earning a lower wage than those that would be working a standard 40 hour work week. Some students hoping to move up in the dental profession will work as a dental assistant while they are completing their education to work as a hygienist or dentist. These individuals may be getting paid less because they are working a dental assistant program through their school to earn the necessary experience to finish their degree.

Dental Assistant Salary Compared To Related Fields

The average salary for a dental assistant is fairly average compared to other medical fields that require a similar amount of education and training.

Average Dental Assistant Salary: $34,740

Average Medical Assistant Salary: $28,860

Average Pharmacy Technician Salary: $28,400

Average Surgical Technologist Salary: $39,920

Physical Therapist Aid or Assistant Salary: $37,710

As you can see, the salary for a dental assistant is slightly higher than some fields, but not quite as high as those working as an aid or technologist. However, those working in these better paying positions are often encouraged to take on additional on the job training or pursue a postsecondary medical degree in a medical field, while medical assistants or pharmacy technicians can work with just a high school diploma should they receive the proper certification.

Dental Assistant Salary by State

Location has a distinct advantage in your ability to get a job as a dental assistant. Noted below are the top states that employ members in this field and the average salary for a dental assistant in these states.

Dental Assistants in California: Average Salary $26,420

Dental Assistants in Texas: Average Salary $31,550

Dental Assistants in New York: Average Salary $35,490

Dental Assistants in Florida: Average Salary $33,220

Dental Assistants in Illinois: Average Salary $32,360

You may note that the salaries in these areas are somewhat lower than the average salary for a dental assistant to earn. This is largely due to the increased rate of competition in these areas. While you will be more likely to find a job in these states, you may need to work your way up before you are able to earn a wage more comparable with other areas of the country. Those that are hoping to make more out of their career can search for jobs in states that are known for providing high wages. Noted below is a list of the dental assistant salary by state for areas that provide the highest salary.

Dental Assistant Salary in District of Colombia: $48,040

Dental Assistant Salary in Alaska: $42,520

Dental Assistant Salary in New Hampshire: $42,510

Dental Assistant Salary in Minnesota: $42,500

Dental Assistant Salary in Massachusetts: $41,280

As you can see, these areas provide adental assistant average salary that is higher than the national average. This is largely due to the fact that these states have a population that is centered around a few large cities. This means that people will likely seek out a few local dentists’ offices for treatment, forcing these facilities to increase their number of dental assistants to manage this higher workload. Because there are fewer offices in a given area the dental assistants in these states will be paid a higher wage to compensate for their time.

Dental Assistant Types of Salaries

There are different positions within the dental industry. The main difference within these positions is the amount of education and experience necessary to work in this field. Many people will begin working as a dental assistant and work their way up to other parts of the field. However, those that are not interested in pursuing a great deal of education will still be able to make a comfortable salary at this level.

Dental Assistant: Average Salary: $33,337

The average dental assistant will be asked to assist with more complicated procedures such as oral surgery. This may include handing the dentist any necessary tools to complete the procedure, recording any findings during the patient’s visit, changing barriers, sterilizing equipment after the procedure or managing office tasks. These individuals will work directly under the dentist and will not be able to perform any tasks involving patient care without supervision. Dental assistants will be expected to earn an associate’s degree and 0-2 years of experience to maximize their salary opportunities.

Dental Hygienist: Average Salary: $65,964

Dental hygienists will work with directly with a dentist to treat things like accretions, stains on the teeth or below the gums, cleaning the teeth or using dental instruments. They may inspect the lymph nodes on the neck to check for cancers or infections. They may also evaluate any sores or other signs of disease in the month. The dentist may also ask the hygienist to provide education regarding the proper way to maintain their oral hygiene. Those that plan to work as a dental hygienist will need to earn an associate’s degree and 2-4 years of experience before they can work in the field.

Dentist: Average Salary: $143,656

Dentists will perform all major treatments that are necessary to main the patient’s teeth and gums. This may include examining the patient to evaluate the cause of any discomfort or infection, educating the patient on proper ways to care for their teeth and gums, and perform any necessary preventative maintenance on the teeth. They may recommend surgery or orthodontic procedures to treat malformations of the teeth or to treat serious infections. In order to work as a dentist you will need to attend an accredited school then complete any licensing exams required by your state to practice in the field. You may also need to get 2-4 years of experience before you can treat patients on your own.

History of Dental Assistants

Dental assistants have been around since the 1885, though during this time period they were known as Ladies in Attendance. These women would assist with x-rays, treating abscesses or mix materials that the dentist would use to provide treatment for the patient. By the early1900s, dentists moved to create a national organization that would train dental assistants to manage necessary tasks more effectively. Several organizations were formed around the country, chiefly the American Dental Assistants Association in Chicago, which remains the lead organization in managing dental assistants today.

Dental AssistantSalary Outlook – Conclusion

There are currently around 297,200 dental assistants working in the United States today. This is expected to grow by at least 31 percent by 2020. Compared to other occupations, which are only expected to see a 14 percent growth, this is a significant raise. However, this is right on par with other health support positions that are expected to see a 34 percent growth in the same time period. The salary of a dental assistant and the growth it is expected to see at this time will vary based on how the dental industry as a whole will be compromised. Changes in health care coverage and insurance policies may have an impact on these salaries, including the dental assistant average salary.

In general, the health care industry is expected to grow as the baby boomer population continues to age. This impacts the dental industry because there is now a great deal more knowledge regarding the importance of employing proper methods to maintain your teeth. Patients from previous generations that did not receive the necessary preventative care to avoid more serious problems later. The average salary for a dental assistantwill likely continue to rise as dental offices expand to take on this growing clientele.