What is a Dental Assistant

Dental assistant (also known as Certified Dental Assistant, Registered Dental Assistant, Dental Aide, Orthodontic Assistant, Orthodontist Assistant, Surgical Dental Assistant) is a member of the dental team responsible for helping dentists to improve the overall efficiency of dental treatment. They assist the dentists in providing basic dental care to patients and also keep records of the patient’s history and conditions. It is also their duty to assist dentists with procedures.

A dental assistant is not the same as a dental hygienist, the latter requires more training and education. For more information on what a dental assistant do, please visit our dental assistant job description page.

Where do Dental Assistant’s Work

Almost all dental assistants work in dentists’ offices. A few others work for the Federal Executive Branch, or for colleges, universities, and professional schools, as well as for insurance carriers, however this accounts for less than 10,000 of the 300,000 dental assistants, or 3%.

The work environments of dental offices are well known to many; they are clean, sterile areas, with plenty of lighting. They will not be peaceful environments, however, as dentists’ office contain a great deal of noise; suction, drills, and other dental tools, as well as the ambient music to put patients at ease, can all combine to become a difficult sonic environment when exposed for long hours.

Work Schedule

The work schedule for most dental assistants is a forty hour work week, often eight hours, five days a week. These will tend to be business hours, with some slight variance to accommodate patients’ schedules (so rather than 8-4 or 9-5, they may be 10-6 or 11-7). There is some possibility of part time work for dental assistants, as well, however this is less common. Most work full time hours.

How Much Do Dental Assistants Make

The average annual dental assistant salary is $35,640. The average salary is calculated by adding all the wages within the occupation and dividing that value by the total number of employees. There is a large variance in the annual wages of dental assistants. The lowest 10% of  dental assistants salaries are less than $24,220 yearly. The top 10% of dental assistant annual incomes reach more than $48,350. The mean dental assistant hourly salary is $17.13.

Dental Assistant Salary Per Hour and Yearly: Quick Summary

2013 Mean Salary$35,640 per year
$17.13 per hour
Top 10% Salary$48,350 per year
$23.25 per hour
Bottom 10% Salary$24,220 per year
$11.64 per hour
Number of Jobs, 2013309,540

Dental Assistant Job Outlook and Prospects

Significant job increase is expected in this field in the next decade. The expected employment increase in the US alone is 25%, or 74,400 jobs by 2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This increase will be attributed from the following facts:

  • the need to reduce the workload of dentists to enable them see more patients
  • advancement in dental practices
  • increase in the number of aging baby-boom populations who are more likely to have dental problems

Dental Assistant Salary Factors and Influences

The annual income of a dental assistant is affected by numerous factors, including geographic location, the training and certification he or she has, and their experience on the job. In particular, location seems to be the primary factor.

Dental assistants in more costly regions will tend to earn a higher salary, in order to compensate for the inflated cost of living. While the average dental assistant’s salary is $35,640, dental assistants in New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Alaska earn $6,000-$8,000 more than this. On a metropolitan scale, however, San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City offers the best salary, topping the range at $47,280. Dental assistants in West Virginia, meanwhile, earn an average of $27,170.

More training and certification leads to a greater versatility on the job, and these more specialized dental assistants are in higher demand. Consequently, they are able to fill a wider array of needs in the office. This typically results in a higher annual income for a dental assistant.

Education and Specialization

A dental assistant’s salary is correlated to how versatile they are in their job duties. There are some specialties within the position, including coronal polishing, restorative dental assisting, and oral surgery dental assistance, which, when part of the repertoire of skills an applicant has, will provide a higher salary. However, a broader range of skills, branching in to laboratory and office duties on top of their standard patient care, will make the applicant more desirable in the office, and bring a subsequent increase in wage.

Experience and Position

Coupled with the versatility factor, the dental assistant may receive a more broad-ranging position that will allow them to take on more responsibility, and thus garner a higher salary. Alternatively, exceptional skills in a few specialties can also make a candidate more in demand.

Experience, however is one of the main factors increasing dental assistant salary. Salaries will increase over time spent in the position, as their experience, and thus their ease with treating patients, improves.


Generally speaking, the highest average salary on the industry side comes from working for an insurance carrier, at $41,420. Specialty hospitals or positions working for the Federal Executive Branch are also more lucrative, at $39,380 and $38,480, respectively.


As mentioned, those dental assistants working in New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Alaska will garner higher salaries than those in other areas of the country. Seeking a position in an area that has a relatively high cost of living will bring about a higher salary, and finding a position in an area where the salary outstrips the cost of living would be the most prudent plan.