Dental Assistant Salary: An In-Depth Analysis

By Acadlog 11 Min Read
11 Min Read

If you’re thinking about becoming a dental assistant or you’re already working in this field and want to earn more, it’s important to know what affects your salary. This article breaks down the different factors that can change how much you make as a dental assistant and offers tips on how you can increase your income.

Dental Assistant Salary: The Complete Details

The salary for a dental assistant can vary widely based on a range of factors including geographic location, experience, education, and the type of facility where they work. Here, we explore the data and facts surrounding the earnings of dental assistants to provide a clearer picture of what professionals in this field can expect.

National Salary Data

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in their May 2021 report, the average annual wage for dental assistants was approximately $38,660, or about $18.59 per hour. However, earnings can range significantly within the profession:

  • Lower 10% of Earners: Around $29,580 annually, often those new to the field or in lower-paying regions.
  • Median Salary: $38,660, which represents the middle of the pay scale.
  • Upper 10% of Earners: Approximately $59,540 annually, which can include those in higher-paying states, with extensive experience, or who hold advanced certifications.

Geographic Variation in Salaries

Geographic location is a major determinant of salary for dental assistants. Here are some examples based on the BLS data:

  • Highest-Paying States: States like Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Alaska typically offer the highest wages, with averages ranging from $45,000 to nearly $50,000 annually.
  • Lowest-Paying States: West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama are among the lowest, with average salaries often below $35,000 per year.

Metropolitan areas generally offer higher salaries compared to rural areas due to the higher cost of living and greater demand for dental services.

Factors Affecting Salaries

Several key factors influence how much dental assistants earn:

  • Experience: Entry-level dental assistants earn less than those with several years of experience who have developed a broader set of skills and responsibilities.
  • Certification: Holding a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) credential from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) can increase an assistant’s earning potential by approximately $2 or more per hour.
  • Employer Type: Dental assistants working in specialty hospitals or outpatient care centers might earn more than those in traditional dental offices. The type of practice (e.g., orthodontic, pediatric, general) can also affect wages.
  • Education: Completing accredited programs and engaging in ongoing education can enhance job prospects and salary potential.

Impact of Experience and Certification on Dental Assistant Salaries

Experience and professional certifications significantly influence the earning potential and career progression of dental assistants. Let’s explore how these factors contribute to salary variations and job opportunities in the dental assisting field.


Experience is a critical factor in determining a dental assistant’s salary. As dental assistants gain more years of experience, they often see substantial increases in pay due to improved skills, efficiency, and the ability to handle more complex tasks:

  • Entry-Level: Dental assistants with less than one year of experience typically earn starting salaries at the lower end of the wage spectrum. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this could be around $29,580 annually.
  • Mid-Career: After gaining a few years of experience, dental assistants can expect to earn around the median salary of $38,660, as they are more adept at their duties and can handle additional responsibilities.
  • Experienced: Assistants with 10-20 years of experience can approach or exceed the upper 10% salary range, potentially earning upwards of $59,540 annually.

Increased responsibility could include managing a dental office’s sterilization procedures, taking on administrative roles, or training new staff, all of which add value to a dental practice and can justify higher wages.


Professional certification is another key factor that impacts salaries in the dental assisting profession:

  • Certified Dental Assistant (CDA): Obtaining a CDA certification from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) is known to increase a dental assistant’s marketability and salary. On average, CDAs earn about $2 more per hour than their non-certified peers, which can amount to approximately $4,000 more annually.
  • Specialized Certifications: Certifications in specialized areas such as orthodontics, pediatric dental assisting, or restorative functions (like the Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant or CRFDA) can lead to even higher pay due to the specialized skills and knowledge required.

Employers value these certifications as they often reduce the need for on-the-job training and signify a professional’s commitment to maintaining high industry standards.

Employment Settings and Opportunities for Dental Assistants

The employment landscape for dental assistants is diverse, with multiple settings and opportunities that can affect career paths and salaries. Understanding where dental assistants work, the demand in these settings, and how these factors influence earnings and job satisfaction is crucial for those in the profession or considering entering the field.

Overview of Employment Settings

Dental assistants can find employment in a variety of healthcare environments, each offering unique benefits and challenges:

  • Private Dental Practices: The most common setting for dental assistants, where they support dentists in day-to-day patient care and office tasks. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2021, a vast majority of the 347,170 dental assistants employed in the United States worked in dental offices.
  • Hospitals and Outpatient Care Centers: These settings offer roles for dental assistants in more clinical and acute care environments, often with higher pay due to the specialized nature of care and the extended hours many such facilities operate.
  • Public Health Clinics: Focused on community health, these clinics often employ dental assistants to work in preventive dental care and community education programs. Employment in these settings may be driven by public funding and community health initiatives, which can offer job stability and fulfilling work in service to underserved populations.
  • Employment Numbers: The majority of dental assistants work in dental offices. Specifically, over 90% are employed in this setting, highlighting the demand and stability offered by private dental practices.
  • Alternative Settings: Beyond traditional dental offices, about 6,420 dental assistants were employed in outpatient care centers in 2020, reflecting a smaller but significant sector within the healthcare industry.

Salary Variations by Setting

Salaries for dental assistants vary significantly based on the employment setting:

  • Dental Offices: According to May 2021 data from the BLS, the average salary in dental offices was approximately $38,660 annually.
  • Outpatient Care Centers: These centers often pay higher, reflecting the specialized skills required for dental procedures outside of the typical dental office environment. Dental assistants in these settings might earn an average of $40,000 to $43,000 per year.
  • Public Health Clinics: Salaries in these settings may be slightly lower than in private practices, due to budget constraints typical of publicly funded programs. However, many find the public service aspect personally rewarding.

Job Growth and Projections

The dental assistant field is projected to grow by 8% from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS. This growth rate is faster than the average for all occupations and is fueled by:

  • Aging Population: As the population ages, the need for preventive dental services increases, driving demand for dental assistants.
  • Technological Advancements: Innovations in dental care require dental assistants who are trained in the latest technologies, including digital imaging and electronic health record management.
  • Increased Access to Health Insurance: With more people gaining access to dental insurance through healthcare reforms, the demand for routine and corrective dental services is expected to rise, thereby increasing job opportunities for dental assistants.

Regional Demand

Demand for dental assistants also varies regionally. States with aging populations or large metropolitan areas often have higher needs and offer better pay. For example, states like Minnesota and Alaska not only offer high average salaries but also have robust job markets for dental assistants due to their extensive healthcare systems.

Last Words

Being a dental assistant offers a unique mix of challenges and rewards. Your income can vary based on many things like where you work, your experience, and your education level. To boost your career and possibly earn more, focus on getting certified, gaining more experience, and continuing your education. No matter if you are just starting out or aiming to climb higher in your career, always keep learning and adapting. This approach will help you thrive in the dynamic field of dental healthcare.

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