American Dental Assistant Salary Guide

Dental assistants are generally responsible for many tasks in a dentist’s practice. From taking x-rays and providing patient care to scheduling appointments and keeping records, dental assistants do it all. Of course, the duties vary from state to state and from employer to employer, as does the dental assistant salary.

While some states require dental assistants to graduate from one sort of accredited program or another, as well as to pass an exam, other states require no formal education whatsoever. Another thing different from state to state and from industry to industry is where dental assistants work. Most of them work full time in dentists’ offices, but this varies widely from place to place.

dental assistant salary

With an estimated median salary of $36,000 per year and $17.30 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and an employment rate estimated to rise 18% by 2024, the profession is still not one of the most sought-after in healthcare. So, let’s see what we can find out about the salary of a dental assistant.

Below, you can find a table of the yearly and hourly dental assistant salaries sorted by percentile:

Percentile 10% 25% 50%
(Median)
75% 90%
Hourly Wage $12.00 $14.22 $17.30 $21.09 $24.35
Annual Wage $24,950 $29,580 $35,980 $43,860 $50,660

Factors that Influence the Dental Assistant Salary

As it happens with most salaries in healthcare, the dental assistant salary is influenced by a wide array of factors. Some of these are more minor, and they don’t influence it too much, while others can affect it by as much as $15,000 a year. Meanwhile, bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing can elevate the average dental assistant salary by more than $10,000.

The most important factors which influence the salary are the industry of the profession, the location of each place of employment, and last, but most definitely not least, the level of experience of each employee. For example, a highly experienced EFDA operating out of Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, or Indiana might have a similar salary to an entry level pediatric or surgical dental assistant in NYC, San Antonio, San Diego, or Colorado.

Geographic Area

With each state having its own economy, as well as its own dentistry needs, it’s not difficult to understand why the state of each place of employment can have such a big influence on the dental assistant salary. The same case applies, of course, to different cities, countries, and even metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. However, we will only be checking out the dental assistant salary inside the United States.

Speaking of states and geographic distribution, below you will be able to find a series of tables which document the states and the metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas with the highest levels of employment and the highest salaries for the occupation.

If, by any chance, your place of residence isn’t on any of the lists, that is no reason to worry. Simply because places like Oklahoma, Georgia, Michigan, Missouri, Arkansas, or Oregon aren’t on the list, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t any job opportunities or that the salaries are exceedingly high in those areas. Instead, it simply means that they aren’t in the top tier.

The states offering the highest levels of employment for people with the dental assistant salary are as follows:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
California 49,210 3.18 1.36 $18.62 $38,730
Texas 26,380 2.28 0.97 $16.95 $35,260
New York 19,580 2.18 0.93 $17.20 $35,770
Florida 17,350 2.19 0.93 $17.20 $35,780
Illinois 13,200 2.25 0.96 $17.85 $37,120

Meanwhile, the states offering the highest salaries for dental assistants are the following:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
New Hampshire 1,360 2.13 0.91 $21.87 $45,480
Alaska 1,260 3.86 1.65 $21.42 $44,560
Minnesota 5,520 1.99 0.85 $21.26 $44,220
Massachusetts 7,370 2.17 0.93 $20.23 $42,080
North Dakota 690 1.55 0.66 $20.19 $42,000

If you are interested in more vaguely distributed information, the tables below will present the metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas with the highest salaries and the highest levels of employment for dental assistants.

The metropolitan areas with the highest levels of employment for the profession are as follows:

Metropolitan area Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
New York – Jersey City – White Plains, NY – NJ Metropolitan Division 14,130 2.18 0.93 $17.34 $36,070
Los Angeles – Long Beach – Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division 11,480 2.80 1.19 $18.31 $38,080
Chicago – Naperville – Arlington Heights, IL Metropolitan Division 8,420 2.36 1.01 $18.07 $37,600
Houston – The Woodlands – Sugar Land, TX 6,700 2.29 0.98 $17.09 $35,540
Atlanta – Sandy Springs – Roswell, GA 6,500 2.62 1.12 $18.20 $37,860
Dallas – Plano – Irving, TX Metropolitan Division 5,700 2.45 1.04 $17.84 $37,110
Anaheim – Santa Ana – Irvine, CA Metropolitan Division 5,550 3.64 1.55 $16.63 $34,580
Washington – Arlington – Alexandria, DC – VA – MD – WV Metropolitan Division 5,070 2.10 0.89 $19.92 $41,440
Phoenix – Mesa – Scottsdale, AZ 4,850 2.58 1.10 $18.59 $38,670
Riverside – San Bernardino – Ontario, CA 4,730 3.61 1.54 $15.92 $33,120

Meanwhile, the metropolitan areas with the highest dental assistant salaries are the following:

Metropolitan area Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
San Rafael, CA Metropolitan Division 620 5.50 2.35 $24.12 $50,170
Manchester, NH 260 2.39 1.02 $23.48 $48,830
Haverhill – Newburyport – Amesbury Town, MA – NH NECTA Division 170 2.69 1.15 $23.26 $48,370
San Jose – Sunnyvale – Santa Clara, CA 3,280 3.24 1.38 $23.03 $47,900
Taunton – Middleborough – Norton, MA NECTA Division 60 1.09 0.46 $22.67 $47,160
Barnstable Town, MA 190 1.84 0.78 $22.23 $46,240
Peoria, IL 240 1.37 0.58 $21.99 $45,730
San Francisco – Redwood City – South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division 2,210 2.17 0.92 $21.94 $45,630
Rochester, MN 240 2.11 0.90 $21.93 $45,620
Anchorage, AK 730 4.12 1.76 $21.86 $45,470

Nonmetropolitan with the highest levels of employment for dental assistants are:

Nonmetropolitan area Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
North Northeastern Ohio 620 1.89 0.80 $17.50 $36,400
East Central Illinois 470 3.99 1.70 $16.41 $34,130
Northeast Mississippi 460 2.07 0.88 $15.02 $31,240
West Northwestern Ohio 460 1.82 0.78 $16.42 $34,150
Piedmont North Carolina 460 1.83 0.78 $17.81 $37,050

Last, but not least, the nonmetropolitan areas with the highest dental assistant salaries are as follows:

Nonmetropolitan area Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Central New Hampshire 210 2.17 0.93 $23.65 $49,190
Southeast Minnesota 350 2.18 0.93 $23.59 $49,070
Connecticut 60 1.82 0.78 $23.45 $48,780
Southwest New Hampshire 60 1.59 0.68 $23.11 $48,070
Balance of Alaska 270 3.54 1.51 $21.42 $44,560

Many people aspiring to become dental assistants are deterred by the fact that the dental assistant salary in Texas is higher than that in Bristol, CT, Philadelphia, PA, Charlotte, NC, Las Vegas, CA, Minneapolis, MN, or Charleston, SC. However, with a bit of hard work, determination, and commitment, any good enough dental assistant can grab the highest salary for the profession.

Experience

Experience is one of the most important factors in determining the dental assistant salary. For example, a registered clinical dental assistant with expanded functions and no more than five years of experience in an office will most likely make less than a certified assisting hygienist with more than ten years on the job, regardless if they have an administrative position or not.

According to payscale.com, the average starting salary for dental assistants is estimated at $28,000 per year. Over the course of one’s career, the average salary range and path of dental assistants are as follows:

  • From $28,000 to $33,000 over the first five to ten years of experience
  • From $33,000 to $37,000 over the first ten to twenty years of experience
  • From $37,000 to $39,000 after more than twenty years on the job

While experience does account for a pretty significant salary increase, it starts failing to do so after the twenty-year mark. So, many people with the dental assistant salary and job description prefer to attempt moving on from the position. The most common way to do this is to register or to get certified.

This generally adds an additional function or duty or two, as well as a significant pay raise and more employment opportunities. It’s an uncontested fact that the registered dental assistant salary or the certified dental assistant salary is much higher than that of a regular dental assistant.

Industry

The industry is perhaps the most important factor when it comes to determining the dental assistant salary. If we were to look at the influence of the geographical location vs. the industry of the profession, the industry would undoubtedly win. So, let’s take a look at the industries which these dental assistance hygiene experts can exploit to get higher salaries.

The industries with the highest levels of employment for people with the dental assistant salary are as follows:

Industry Employment Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Dentists’ Offices 294,990 32.81 $17.75 $36,920
Physicians’ Offices 6,080 0.24 $16.70 $34,740
Employment Services 4,320 0.12 $17.47 $36,340
Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation) 3,920 0.20 $19.19 $39,910
Universities, Colleges, and Professional Schools 3,420 0.11 $18.18 $37,810

Meanwhile, the industries offering the highest dental assistant salaries are the following:

Industry Employment Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Insurance Carriers 80 0.01 $20.34 $42,310
State Government (OES Designation) 1,470 0.07 $19.54 $40,640
Specialty (minus Substance Abuse and Psychiatric) Hospitals 130 0.05 $19.50 $40,560
Emergency, Community Food and Housing, and Similar Relief Services 40 0.03 $19.27 $40,080
Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation) 3,920 0.20 $19.19 $39,910

If you are interested in other jobs in his field and are willing to study a few extra years, you can also take a look at our guide to the orthodontist salary.

Work Hours

Back in 2014, the majority of dental assistants were reported to work full time, in dentists’ offices or practices. However, working part-time isn’t all that unheard of in the ranks of dental assistants. Of course, certified or registered dental assistants are far more likely to work full time than part time, as they are actually invested in their career.

The average work week of a full-time dental assistant is generally longer than 35 hours a week – around 36 or 37. Meanwhile, the average estimated work week of a part-time dental assistant was measured to be somewhere around 25 hours long. However, this data was last collected in the summer of 2014, so some things might have changed since then.

Bonuses and Benefits Packages

The most common benefits packages registered by people with the dental assistant salary include medical, dental, and vision insurance, as well as a decent number of sick and paid leave days, and a 401(K) plan. About 36% of dental assistants get medical, 42% get dental, 14% get vision, and 43% get no insurance whatsoever.

While the average dental assistant salary is on the low end of healthcare salaries, barely higher than the minimum wage, tips, overtimes, bonuses, commissions, and profit sharing can add a few tens of thousands of dollars a year to the paycheck. In fact, bonuses usually amount to around $1,500 a year, commissions, to around $5,000, profit sharing to around $4,000, while overtimes can yield an extra $30 an hour.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for people with the dentist assistant salary is highly optimistic, at least according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the rate of employment for the profession is estimated to grow 18% by 2024. That is much faster than the United States average for all occupations.

This growth is believed to be caused by recent research linking oral health to the human body’s overall health. Plus, the increase in the use of hard drugs, such as meth, all over the country has also led to increasingly common oral health issues, also spurring the increase of the rate of employment. The constant increase of the elderly population is also a major contributing factor.

Having one of the worst paying jobs in healthcare, dental assistants are increasingly more common and easy to hire. Despite the fact that the dental assistant salary is located around the minimum wage, the bonuses, overtimes, and commissions make the position be worth it a bit more. However, getting certified and registered offers not only a higher pay, but also a wider array of job opportunities.

All the tables in this article are courtesy of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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