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Dental Assistant Salary and Career Outlook

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Dentists play a massive role in helping us maintain proper oral hygiene and improving our overall physical and mental health. But as important as their jobs are, it would only be possible to carry them out as quickly and as effectively as they do with the presence of dental assistants.

It is the job of a dental assistant to assist dentists and other dental operators in the course of their daily routines. They do this through administrative tasks such as setting up meetings and appointments and keeping records and practical studies such as sterilizing dental instruments, processing x-rays, and preparing patients for treatment.

So yes, the job of a dental assistant is essential. But how much do they make? And can these figures be increased? We take an in-depth look below.

Dental Assistant Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for a dental assistant is $38,660. The highest earners in the top 10% earned about $59,540, while those in the top 25% earned $47,580.

On the lower end, the bottom 10% of dental assistants by earnings took home $29,580, while those in the bottom 25% earned $37,000.

As we’ll see below, quite a few factors are responsible for the differences in monthly/yearly earnings. Thankfully, as a dental assistant, you can optimize these factors in your favor to increase your potential profits in the coming years.

Factors that Affect the Annual Income of a Dental Assistant

There are quite a few factors capable of determining the exact salary you earn as a dental assistant. These include geographical location, education level, experience, certification, etc.

We take a look at the most important of these below.


Unsurprisingly, where you choose to practice as a dental assistant significantly impacts the amount you can expect to take home every year. Not only does the salary a dental assistant earns vary from one state to another, but it also varies from city to city inside the same state.

We look below at how dental assistant salaries vary by state and city.

Dental Assistant Salary by City/State

The highest paying cities for dental assistants include Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Bloomington, Wisconsin, where dental assistants earn an annual salary of $59,840; San Jose, Sunnyvale, San Francisco, Oakland, and Hayward, California, with a yearly salary of $56,130;

Portsmouth, NH-ME, with $49,770: Barnstable Town, Massachusetts, with $49,310: Rochester, Minnesota, with $48,690 and Bismarck, North Dakota, where dental assistants earn $48,520 annually.


Another factor that can significantly influence how much you earn as a dental assistant is your education level. There are a few paths to becoming a dental assistant, each with its unique educational requirements.

For instance, those who became dental assistants through a certificate or diploma program would not necessarily have attained the same education level as those who got in through an associate degree program.

Moreover, having a formal education from an accredited program also makes it easy to become certified, which is another factor that can improve your salary, as we’ll see below.


Certification should not be confused with a certificate program. Certificate programs teach students the fundamentals they need to become dental assistants. Certification, however, is an additional credential usually obtained after formal education.

Certification shows an extra mastery of the occupation and dedication and commitment to improving yourself as a dental assistant. Certification programs are usually run by independent bodies and organizations, sometimes by the state or a state-approved body.

For instance, the Dental Assisting National Board has two certifications for all qualified dental assistants. These are the National Entry Level Dental Assistant (NELDA) and Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certifications.

A survey by NELDA indicated that those with the CDA credential earn about $2 an hour more than those without.


Lastly, where you choose to work also influences how much you can earn as a dental assistant. The job responsibilities, which may be limited to basic assisting tasks or advanced procedures, depending on the state, also determine the salary of a dental assistant.

That is, dentists who take on more responsibilities in their workplace typically earn more than those who take on limited roles.

Improving your Salary as a Dental Assistant

Understanding the factors above and how they impact you as a dental assistant can help you adjust and optimize your earnings. Along with the above, dental assistants can also look the improve their salary through any of the means below:

  • Additional Education - It is impossible for a practicing dental assistant to grow even more by returning to the classroom. Returning to school and getting the education required for professional certification can help you increase your salary as a dental assistant or help you become a dental hygienist and earn even more.
  • Specialty Certification - Dental assistants can also improve their salary by obtaining specialty certification. Those who already have a DCA can take it further by specializing and getting, for example, a COA (Certified Orthodontic Assistant), CPFDA (Certified Preventive Functions Dental Assistant), or CRFDA (Certified Restorative Functions Dental Assistant) certification.

Career Outlook for a Dental Assistant

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for dental assistants is rising and is expected to grow. The growth rate is significantly higher than the national average.

The reasons for this increased demand ranged from the growth of the aging baby boomer population (which will increase by 10,000 every day until 2030) to the need for more preventive dental care among all ages.

As studies find more links between bad oral hygiene and life-threatening conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, the general population will continue to adjust by paying more attention to their dental health.

This will bring about more demand in the dental health industry, consequently implying more demand for dental assistants.