According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental assistants in the United States make a median annual salary of $41,180 per year or $19.80 per hour.

Dental assistants provide patient care and chair-side support during dental exams and procedures, from simple cleanings to complicated root canals. The work combines technical, administrative, and people skills, and it's an essential piece of a well-run dental office.

While the job occasionally includes more independent work, like teeth polishing or explaining proper dental hygiene, it more often requires the assistant to work in tandem with the practicing dentist or dental hygienist. For more detailed information on becoming a dental assistant, be sure to check out our How to Become a Dental Assistant Guide.

How Much Do Dental Assistants Make in the United States?

According to the BLS, the average salary across occupations in the U.S. was $56,310 in 2020. A dental assistant salary is less than this, at $42,310, per year.

While the difference between the average salary nationwide and the average salary for dental hygienists may seem significant, there are external factors to consider when deciding whether or not this is the career path for you. The biggest is that dental assistants don't need a college degree or medical license. This means that most dental assistants don't enter the workforce with mounting debt, and they have more flexibility with their income.

Becoming a dental assistant is an excellent way to pursue a path in the medical field without the time and monetary commitment of years of schooling. It's also a great career path for those looking for job stability and the ability to help others.

Salary Changes Throughout the Career Path

How much does a dental assistant make? Pay can vary greatly throughout the length of a career. Using data from PayScale, we broke down dental assistant pay (and salaries for related careers) from entry-level to 20+ years of work experience.

  • Less than 1 year of experience: $13.97/hour or $29,057/year
  • 1-4 years of experience: $15.25/hour or $31,720/year
  • 5-9 years of experience: $17.68/hour or $36,774/year
  • 10-19 years of experience: $19.18/hour or $39,894/year
  • 20+ years of experience: $20/hour or $41,600/year
  • Less than 1 year of experience: $14.47/hour or $30,097/year
  • 1-4 years of experience: $16.31/hour or $33,924/year
  • 5-9 years of experience: $18.11/hour or $37,668/year
  • 10-19 years of experience: $19.76/hour or $41,400/year
  • 20+ years of experience: $22/hour or $45,760/year
  • Less than 1 year of experience: $14.39/hour or $29,931/year
  • 1-4 years of experience: $16.89/hour or $34,944/year
  • 5-9 years of experience: $19.68/hour or $40,934/year
  • 10-19 years of experience: $21.10/hour or $43,888/year
  • 20+ years of experience: $23/hour or $47,840/year
  • Less than 1 year of experience: $31.28/hour or $65,062/year
  • 1-4 years of experience: $33.50/hour or $69,680/year
  • 5-9 years of experience: $35.80/hour or $74,464/year
  • 10-19 years of experience: $36.33/hour or $75,566/year
  • 20+ years of experience: $36/hour or $74,880/year
  • Less than 1 year of experience: $120,659/year
  • 1-4 years of experience: $128,979/year
  • 5-9 years of experience: $139,443/year
  • 10-19 years of experience: $152,267/year
  • 20+ years of experience: $156,314/year

Dental office manager

A dental office manager runs the entire dentist's office, working with the dentists, dental hygienists, and dental assistants to ensure patients receive optimal care.

Dental products salesperson

Dental product manufacturers and distributors almost always employ dental assistants on their sales teams, as the assistants have in-depth knowledge of how an office runs, oral health, and useful products.

Dental insurance officer

The dental insurance industry is a popular job path for dental assistants looking for work away from the chair. A more business-focused positions, dental insurance officers typically process dental insurance claims, verifying that the patient had work done and it qualified for coverage.

Pay Difference By Location

State

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Career Opportunities and Job Growth

The BLS projects that the number of open dental assistant positions will rise by 7% between 2019 and 2029. This is much faster than the average growth rate for all industries, which lies at 4%. With 23,400 new positions set to open by 2029, anyone looking to enter the dental assistant field will likely be able to find a job with plenty of opportunities to advance.

The top states for dental assistant job potential are:

And the cities that currently employ the most dental assistants include:

Other Benefits of Becoming a Dental Assistant

Other perks that draw people to the field other than dental assistant salary include:

Healthcare
Most full-time dental assistants receive healthcare through their employers. The insurance level, quality, and number of beneficiaries it's available to may vary depending on the office and position.
Dental insurance
Like with health insurance, full-time dental assistants will likely receive dental insurance. After all, it doesn't reflect well on the dental office if its employees have dirty, damaged, or missing teeth.
Retirement
As in many professions, most full-time employers offer retirement plans, including a 401(k), for their dental assistants. Employer contribution, through matching investments, may or may not be a part of the package, depending on the company.
Clothing allowance
Dental assistants are required to wear scrubs to work. Some offices may provide these scrubs or give employees an annual clothing allowance to help offset the cost of picking up fresh, clean scrubs each year.
Special pay
Many offices provide overtime pay for dental assistants. Occasionally, a cleaning or procedure may extend past a dental assistant's originally scheduled hours, resulting in extra compensation.
Other benefits and perks
Most dentists' offices offer free cleanings and free or reduced-cost procedures (like cavity fillings) for their dental assistants.

It's important to note that dental assistants who hold a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification are more likely to earn benefits than those who do not. So be sure to ask about the benefits given to a potential position during an interview process.

How Much Does it Cost to Become a Dental Assistant?

Education

Typically, dental assistants attend a certificate program at a community college or technical school. However, some dental assistants skip the classroom, opting for an externship, which allows them to learn the skills necessary for the job in a more hands-on manner.

After a few years in the field, many dental assistants return to school to obtain a more advanced degree, though this is not required. Overall, the education portion of becoming a dental assistant can cost anywhere between $0 and several thousand, depending on what route you take.

License exam costs

Licensure requirements vary by state. Find out your required license by contacting your state’s dental board or visiting the Dental Assistant National Board’s (DANB) website. Generally, students must pass the DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant examination, which costs $450.

If cost is an issue for you, federal aid options can help you break into the trade.

Salaries for Related Jobs

The dental assistant salary is good, given the minimal education requirements and low cost of entry, but consider these related jobs if dental assisting might not be for you:

Medical Assistant

  • Average salary: $36,930
  • Education requirements: High school diploma or equivalent and a postsecondary non-degree award

Surgical Technologist

  • Average salary: $49,040
  • Education requirements: High school diploma or equivalent and a certificate from an accredited program

Nursing Assistant

  • Average salary: $32,050
  • Education requirements: Varies by state, but usually includes high school diploma or equivalent, and a state-approved training program

Become Team
Madison Troyer
Contributing Writer

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