Dental assistants
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Overview
Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from providing patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists’ offices where they work.
Predicted employment growth
Over the next decade, jobs for dental assistants are expected to grow by 20%, and should have about 45,900 job openings a year.
Safety from automation
The likelihood of autmoation for ${title} is near the middle of all careers' likelihoods.
Workforce size
Dental assistants, with 332,000 workers, form a larger workforce than 87% of careers.
Education
Only 10% of dental assistants have a bachelor's degree or higher.
Education attained by dental assistants
High School
Some College
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Context: workers with bachelor's degrees
Fewer dental assistants have bachelor's degrees than 70% of other careeers.
Salaries
The median (middle) salary for 68% of all other jobs is higher than the middle salary for dental assistants. The graph shows inflation-adjusted salaries for most dental assistants.
This job's median $39KAll jobs' median $39K$38K$38K20142015201620172018$0$20K$40K$60K
Context: Median Salary
Gender
Women account for 93% of dental assistants -- that's a larger percentage than 99% of other jobs.
Gender of dental assistants
Men
Women
Context: Salary inequity
For each career, we compared the median (middle) men's salary to the median women's salary. Women dental assistants actually earned more than men -- a very rare occurance among careers!
Race/Origin
About 19% of dental assistants are minority, and 17% are foreign-born.
Race/origin of dental assistants
White
Black
Pacific Islander
Hispanic
Asian
American Indian
Multiracial
Other
Context: Foreign-born workers (17%)
Where are the most jobs?
We ranked the number of jobs in Dental Assistants per thousand workers in each state, DC, and Puerto Rico. The darker the blue, the higher the job density.
AKMEVTNHWAIDMTNDMNMINYMARIORUTWYSDIAWIINOHPANJCTCANVCONEMOILKYWVVAMDDEAZNMKSARTNNCSCDCOKLAMSALGAHITXFLPR
Job benefits
Employer or union-sponsored pension plans are offered to 32% of dental assistants, and 40% have company-sponsored health insurance (31% have dependents enrolled in their employer's health plan).
Employer-provided health coverage for dental assistants
100% premiums covered
Partial premiums covered
Plan with no cost sharing
No health insurance
The downside
Some jobs are more stressful than others, and some are just plain dangerous. The following list gives the percentages of dental assistants who report hazardous or difficult situations typically occurring at least once a week.
  • Exposed to Disease or Infections (98%)
  • Exposed to Radiation (81%)
  • Exposed to Contaminants (75%)
  • Responsible for Others' Health and Safety (62%)
  • Time Pressure (58%)
  • Exposed to Hazardous Conditions (50%)
  • Deal With Unpleasant or Angry People (39%)
SOURCES:24.0 O*NET
Salary and diversity
Salary overview
What do dental assistants earn?

In this section, we want to give you a clear idea of what you can expect to earn in this career. We use two sources of data here: the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which asks employers to classify their workforce and to report salaries using the SOC-specialty level of reporting, and the American Community Survey (ACS), which asks people to classify their jobs using the broad classifications that ididio uses for career profiles, and to self-report their salaries. For some jobs, the differences in survey approaches between BLS and ACS can paint a very different end-picture. Whenever possible, we provide data from both sources.

The BLS-compiled salary data is reported by companies for their employees. This data excludes self-employed workers. We first show the distribution of salaries for dental assistants, and then we show how the middle (median) salary for dental assistants compares to the BLS-computed median salaries of other careers.
Distribution: Salaries for dental assistants (BLS Salary Data)
$39K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100K$120K
Context: Median salaries across careers (BLS Salary Data)
$39K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100K$120K
We compiled household data from the ACS to determine the salaries that people working at least 35 hours a week report themselves to earn. Unlike the BLS estimates, this data includes self-employed wages. We first show the full salary distribution for all dental assistants, and then we show how the median (middle) salary for dental assistants compares to the median ACS-reported salary of other careers.
Distribution: Salaries for dental assistants (ACS Salary Data)
$31K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100K$120K
Context: Median salaries across careers (ACS Salary Data)
$31K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100K$120K
Employers and salary
A look at employers and corresponding salaries
The donut shares the break-down of workers by employer type, and following we show the salary distributions for these workers based on those employer types. For some careers, the salaries can be vastly different between private, government, and self-employment. As with our salary overview, we view the both the BLS economists' salary profiles and the household-reported salaries from ACS to get a thorough understanding of where dental assistants work and for what salary. We have the great faith in the accuracy of economist-vetted BLS data; however, the BLS restrictions on which employers are surveyed skews the data a bit (read more in the sources), and the ACS responses provide different and useful categorizations of employers and salaries.
Employers of Dental assistants (ACS)
Private for-profit (89.6%)
Private not-for-profit (3.5%)
Local government (1.3%)
State government (1.5%)
Federal government (2.6%)
Self-employed incorporated (0.9%)
Self-employed not incorporated (0.6%)
Working without pay (0.1%)
Distribution: Salaries of dental assistants by type of employer (ACS data)
Following are the salary distributions by employer type calculated by aggregating individual household survey responses.
$31K$31K$35K$35K$32K$33K$0$20,000$40,000$60,000Federal governmentState governmentLocal governmentPrivate not-for-profitPrivate for-profitAll
Distribution: Salaries of dental assistants by type of employer (BLS data)
Following are the salary distributions by employer type as reported by BLS based on large employer-focused surveys. We note that smaller employer categories are not included by BLS.
$39K$43K$40K$39K$39K$0$20,000$40,000$60,000Federal governmentState governmentLocal governmentPrivateAll
Age and career advancement
Salary growth for dental assistants

The biggest take-away from the following two charts is the relationship between salary and experience that we can infer from age. Does this job seem to attract especially younger or older workers? Does it reward experience?

Take a minute a look at how much you might expect your salary to increase with each five years' experience, as well as how the numbers working in this career changes. We only provide this data when there are enough consistent ACS survey responses to allow a reasonable margin of error, so for some careers you will see gaps in our reporting of salary by age.

$34K$31K$37K$28K$36K$37K$36K$37K$23K$0$20K$40K$60K$80KSalary distribution20-2425-2930-3435-3940-4445-4950-5455-5960-64
010K20K30K40KNumber employed20-2425-2930-3435-3940-4445-4950-5455-5960-64

Our only sources for career data containing age, gender, or origin/race come from the Census Bureau. To provide these breakdowns, we have aggregated ACS person-level career survey responses by career, gender, race, and age. These graphics reflect the results of our aggregations, and are useful for identifying trends. A careful statistical study of the impact of age, gender, and race on salaries would correct for other factors that could be contributing to salary differences.

Gender and Equity
Dental assistants and gender

With 93% women, this occupation has a higher percentage of women than 99% of careers.

Context: Women in the workforce
93%0%20%40%60%80%100%
Gender of Dental assistants
Men (7%)
Women (93%)
Distribution: Salaries by gender

Although nationally the median (middle) salary for all full-time male workers in the US exceeds the full-time median salary for women by 20%, in dental assistants, the median salary for women is 2% higher than the median salary for men. There are only 19 other jobs in which the median women's salary exceeds the median men's salary. This chart shows you the salary range for most workers by gender.

$31K$30K$0$20K$40K$60K$80K$100KWomenMen

Our only sources for career data containing age, gender, or origin/race come from the Census Bureau. To provide these breakdowns, we have aggregated ACS person-level career survey responses by career, gender, race, and age. These graphics reflect the results of our aggregations, and are useful for identifying trends. A careful statistical study of the impact of age, gender, and race on salaries would correct for other factors that could be contributing to salary differences.

Race/Origin
Race and origin of dental assistants

The representation of minority and foreign-born workers is quite different between careers, and the relative pay of those workers also varies significantly between careers. The percentage of minority dental assistants falls in about the middle of all careers' percentages. This career hires a larger percentage of foreign-born workers than most other careers.

Race/origin of dental assistants
White (73% )
Black (8% )
Other (8% )
Asian (6% )
Multiracial (3% )
Hispanic (1% )
American Indian (1% )
Pacific Islander (0% )
Context: Representation of minorities in the workforce
19%0%20%40%60%80%100%
Context: Representation of foreign-born workers
17%0%20%40%60%80%100%
Distribution: Salaries for dental assistants by race/origin

For some careers, there is a pay disparity depending on race or origin, though this is not prevalent. We calculate standard errors for all of our calculations, and when the error is high we do not show results. Therefore, for some jobs will have omitted race/origin categories.

$29K$29K$30K$30K$31K$31K$32K$0$20K$40K$60KHispanicAmerican IndianOtherMultiracialBlackWhiteAsian
Distribution: Salaries for dental assistants by nativity
$31K$31K$0$20K$40K$60KAll native citizensAll foreign-born

Our only sources for career data containing age, gender, or origin/race come from the Census Bureau. To provide these breakdowns, we have aggregated ACS person-level career survey responses by career, gender, race, and age. These graphics reflect the results of our aggregations, and are useful for identifying trends. A careful statistical study of the impact of age, gender, and race on salaries would correct for other factors that could be contributing to salary differences.

Pathways to this career
Education requirements and salary
Education attained by dental assistants

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental assistants typically hold a postsecondary nondegree award.

Sometimes the typical education identified by the BLS differs a bit from the reality of the how much education current workers actually have. The donut shows the education level held by people currently working as dental assistants as reported in responses to the American Community Survey. Following, we investigate whether education level influences salary for dental assistants.

Education attained by dental assistants
None
High School
Some College
Associate's Degree
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Professional Deg/Doct
Doctorate
Details: Education and training recommended for dental assistants

Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. Most programs are offered by community colleges, although they also may be offered by vocational or technical schools. Most programs take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Programs that last 2 years are less common and lead to an associate’s degree. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), part of the American Dental Association, accredited nearly 300 dental assisting training programs in 2017.

Accredited programs include classroom and laboratory work. Students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. These programs also include supervised practical experience.

High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy.

Details: Licensing and certification recommended for dental assistants

States typically do not require licenses for entry-level dental assistants. Some states require dental assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified for entry or advancement. States may require assistants to meet specific licensing requirements in order to work in radiography (x ray), infection control, or other specialties. For specific requirements, contact your state’s Board of Dental Examiners.

States that allow assistants to perform expanded duties, such as coronal polishing, require that they be licensed, registered, or hold certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To earn certification from DANB, applicants must pass an exam. The educational requirements for DANB certification are that dental assistants must either have graduated from an accredited program or have a high school diploma and complete the required amount of work experience. Applicants also must have current certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).

Distribution: Salary by education level

What level of education is truly needed for dental assistants? Below we see the distribution of dental assistants salaries based on the education attained. These comparisons are based on all survey responses by those who identified themselves as dental assistants, and are not intended as a statistical analysis of salary differences that would correct for non-educational factors that could contribute to high or low earnings.

$31K$30K$30K$32K$34K$37K$34K$0$20K$40K$60K$80KNone (3%)High School (25%)Some College (41%)Associate's Degree (21%)Bachelor's Degree (8%)Master's Degree (1%)Professional Deg/Doct (1%)
Certificate/degree pathways

The Department of Education recommends the following college degree programs as preparation for this career. You can click the program row to learn more about the program and explore a list of schools that offer the program.

Program
Education
Education level of awarded degrees
Less than bachelor's
bachelor's degree
Higher than bachelor's
Gender
Gender of graduates
Men
Women
Race/Origin
Race/origin of graduates
White
Minority
International
Number of degrees awarded in 2017
Dental Assisting/Assistant
20,124
Switching Careers
Most common new jobs
The most common next careers for dental assistants

What jobs will most dental assistants hold next year?

The data in this chart comes from person interviews for the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey. The survey interviews households eight times over a two-year period, allowing us a glimpse into how people move from job to job. You can see more details from the results of the survey in our last tab in this section, and you can read about our methodology in our source descriptions.

Here we see all of the jobs that at least 1% of dental assistants reported holding in their second year's survey. Is your future job on this list?

Dental assistantsDental hygienistsReceptionists and information clerksGeneral office clerksMedical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory techniciansMedical assistantsSecretaries and administrative assistants
Lateral career moves
Lateral job transitions for dental assistants

A lateral career transition is a move to a job with similar pay and responsibilities. A move to such a job can offer a change of pace without an increase in stress or a decrease in pay. The following table simply identifies all 4 jobs which were held by at least 1% of survey respondents before working as dental assistants as well as 1% of respondents after working as dental assistants. Select a row to investigate the job's full description and determine if it truly offers an opportunity for a lateral transition.

Lateral-move careers for dental assistants
Annual openings
How many openings are expected each year?
Salary
Salary distribution for people in this occupation. Range is 0-$200,000.
Median
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education
High School
Some College
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Gender
Men
Women
Secretaries and administrative assistants
395,200
$0$200K$36K
Receptionists and information clerks
151,300
$0$200K$27K
Dental hygienists
17,500
$0$200K$55K
Medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians
10,700
$0$200K$36K
Full prior and next career listings
Prior and next careers for dental assistants: full listings

What do people typically do before and after they work as dental assistants? Here are the full lists of all jobs that at least 1% of dental assistants surveyed reported as holding a year earlier or later.

Choose which type of transition to view
Prior jobs
Next jobs
Prior careers for dental assistants
Annual openings
How many openings are expected each year?
Salary
Salary distribution for people in this occupation. Range is 0-$200,000.
Median
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education
High School
Some College
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Doctorate
Gender
Men
Women
Percentage Transitioning
What percentage worked in this job the previous year?
Cashiers
659,300
$0$200K$20K
1.0%
Secretaries and administrative assistants
395,200
$0$200K$36K
1.3%
Receptionists and information clerks
151,300
$0$200K$27K
1.1%
Dental assistants
45,900
$0$200K$31K
67.4%
Dental hygienists
17,500
$0$200K$55K
3.3%
Medical, dental, and ophthalmic laboratory technicians
10,700
$0$200K$36K
1.2%
No occupation
8.0%
Read about dental assistants
Responsibilities and activities
Responsibilities and activities

Dental assistants typically do the following:

  • Ensure that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
  • Prepare patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
  • Sterilize dental instruments
  • Hand instruments to dentists during procedures
  • Dry patients’ mouths using suction hoses and other equipment
  • Instruct patients in proper oral hygiene
  • Process x rays and complete lab tasks, under the direction of a dentist
  • Keep records of dental treatments
  • Schedule patient appointments
  • Work with patients on billing and payment

Assistants who perform lab tasks, such as taking impressions of a patient’s teeth, work under the direction of a dentist. They may prepare materials for dental impressions or to create temporary crowns.

Dental assistants are allowed to perform the following procedures in some states:

  • Coronal polishing
  • Sealant application
  • Fluoride application
  • Topical anesthetic application

Coronal polishing, which means removing soft deposits such as plaque, gives teeth a cleaner appearance. In sealant application, a dental assistant paints a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities. Fluoride application, in which fluoride is put directly on the teeth, is another anticavity measure. Some dental assistants may be qualified to apply topical anesthetic to an area of a patient’s mouth, temporarily numbing the area to help prepare a patient for procedures.

Each state regulates the scope of practice for dental assistants.

Personality and skills
Personality and skills

Can you see yourself in the ranks of dental assistants? Here are the skills and traits that could lead to success.

Detail oriented
Dental assistants must follow specific rules and protocols, such as infection control procedures, when helping dentists treat patients. Assistants also must be aware of what tasks they are allowed to complete in the state where they work.
Dexterity
Dental assistants must be good at working with their hands. They generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, using very precise tools and instruments.
Interpersonal skills
Dental assistants must work closely with dentists and patients. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain and/or mental distress, so the assistant should be sensitive to their emotions.
Listening skills
Dental assistants must listen to patients and other healthcare workers. They need to follow directions from a dentist or <a href="/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm"><u>dental hygienist</u></a>, so they can help treat patients and do tasks, such as taking x rays.
Organizational skills
Dental assistants should have excellent organizational skills. They should have the correct tools in place for a dentist or dental hygienist to use when treating a patient.
Trends in employment
Salary trends
Distribution and trends: Salaries for dental assistants
Choose actual dollars or inflation-adjusted dollars to view
Adjusted for inflation
Historic dollars

In 2018, the median (middle) for 68% of all other jobs were higher than the median (middle) salary for dental assistants. This graphic shows how the salary distribution (adjusted for inflation) has changed for this job over recent years. The gray line, as a comparison, shows the median salary of all US workers.

This job's median $39KAll jobs' median $39K$37K$38K200420052006200720082009201020112012201320142015201620172018$0$20K$40K$60K
Projected versus actual employment
Exploring actual employment trends versus projected trends

Currently, jobs for dental assistants are anticipated to grow by 20% over the next decade; only 6% of jobs are predicted to grow more.

The projected employment for dental assistants is the best guess created by talented economists and statisticians at the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, as you look through several careers you'll notice that the projections are heavily influenced by past performance and may miss current trends. No one can tell the future, and as new information and better techniques are developed, actual counts and future projections may change. Here's a glimpse at the actual counts versus the projections over time.

20002010202020300100,000200,000300,000400,000500,000
Employment counts
Actual measured employment
BLS 10-year predictions
Variation by state
Employment
State-by-state employment numbers

Some careers tend to be centered in specific parts of the country. For example, most jobs in fashion are in New York or California. Let's see if your dream job is easy to find in your dream location! We have a few choices for viewing the data that can help you get a full employment picture.

Job density versus job count

Which states hire the most dental assistants? We wonder if that's a fair question since states come in all sizes, so instead let's start with the question of which states have the highest density of people working as dental assistants. You can choose to view the number of jobs per state if you prefer.

BLS vs ACS data

This map defaults to employment information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which provides job totals carefully compiled for accuracy and with a primary focus on how employers describe their workers. The BLS job totals do not count self-employed workers. We've also compiled totals using the Census Bureau's American Community Survey (ACS) which are based on how workers describe themselves. Sometimes ACS results are quite a bit different from the employer-based BLS data.

Choose the metric to review
Jobs per 1000 working
Number of jobs
Use this data source
BLS
Number of Dental Assistants per 1,000 workers (BLS)
Select a state to see local area details
AKMEVTNHWAIDMTNDMNMINYMARIORUTWYSDIAWIINOHPANJCTCANVCONEMOILKYWVVAMDDEAZNMKSARTNNCSCDCOKLAMSALGAHITXFLPR
0.01.02.03.04.0
Salary
Salaries by state
Let's get a feel for where dental assistants earn the highest salaries. There are several choices for which data we consider and how we view that data, and each can lead to different conclusions, so please read on...
Median salary versus state ratio

We use two methods to compare salaries across states:

  • In-state comparisons: the ratio of median (middle) salaries for dental assistants compared to the median salary for all people working in each state, or
  • Median salary: the unaltered median salaries for dental assistants.

We hope the ratio allows perspective about how salaries may compare to the regional cost-of-living.

BLS vs ACS data

We have two sources for statewide salary information with important distinctions. The BLS data is created by surveying companies, missing individuals who are self-employed or work for smaller companies. The ACS data is compiled from multi-faceted household surveys and may reflect the inconsistencies that people may have in reporting information.

Choose the metric to review
In-state comparisions
Median salary
Use this data source
BLS
Median salary ratio: Dental Assistants to all workers (BLS)
The darkest shading corresponds to states in which dental assistants earn the highest salary when compared to other jobs in the state. We think this ratio might be a better indicator than the actual salary for your buying power as a state resident.
Select a state to see local area details
AKMEVTNHWAIDMTNDMNMINYMARIORUTWYSDIAWIINOHPANJCTCANVCONEMOILKYWVVAMDDEAZNMKSARTNNCSCDCOKLAMSALGAHITXFLPR
0.00.20.40.60.81.01.2
Compare to similar jobs

If this job interests you, then use the dots below to find other jobs you might like. The dots closer to the top represent jobs that are like Dental assistants (shown with a blue star). Look for the dots to the right to find the best salaries! (We pulled salary data from BLS, and they give a top salary value of just over $200K to protect privacy, so our graph would go much higher if the salaries were not top coded.)

How should the career similarity be computed

There are a number of ways to measure the similarity of jobs, here are a few we provide:

  • Interests: Also known as a Holland Code - Are you a thinker? A helper? What fits your personality?
  • Environment: Are there hazards? Will you be comfortable? Will it be stressful?
  • Knowledge: What do you need to know the most about?
  • Physical Abilities: Do you need to especially strong or coordinated?
Choose the similarity measure to compare careers
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