How to Become a

Dental Assistant

The complete career guide to be a Dental Assistant: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $36,920
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 18.4%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Dependable Daily Workload
    Career Attribute

Dental assistants help dentists handle patients and perform oral care procedures. They prepare rooms for patients, clean tools, and ensure patients are relaxed and comfortable before dental procedures. They also assist dentists during procedures by operating water and suction tools.


What is a Dental Assistant?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in dental assistant roles:

  • Prepare rooms for patient procedures, clean tools, and ensure needed items are available for the dentist to use when he needs them
  • Take x-rays, apply topical anesthetic, and ensure patients are comfortable and relaxed before procedures
  • Assist dentists in performing procedures by operating water and suction tools
  • Work with patients to schedule appointments for dental procedures
  • Perform teeth cleanings, apply fluoride treatments, and apply sealants to teeth

A Day in the Life of a Dental Assistant

The primary responsibility of a dental assistant is to aid dentists in performing their jobs. Depending on the size of the office a dental assistant work in, the number of other staff members, and state regulations, the dental assistant may have many responsibilities. In some offices, the dental assistant performs cleaning procedures and applies fluoride treatments and sealants. In other offices, a dental hygienist performs these tasks, and the assistant only helps the dentist before and during procedures.

The primary responsibility of the dental assistant is to provide dentists with an extra set of hands during procedures like removing cavities, installing fillings, performing root canals, and installing crowns and bridges. The dental assistant helps to keep the patient’s mouth clear during procedures through the operation of water and suction tools. Additionally, the assistant retrieves tools and supplies that are out of the dentist’s reach, and may take impressions or perform other tasks depending on state regulations.

The dental assistant may also have responsibilities for scheduling appointments for future procedures and for educating patients on how to care for teeth after procedures. Generally, patients spend more time with the dental assistant than the dentist. While dentists perform the procedures, dental assistants check patients in, show them to their rooms, set them up for treatment, and make sure they’re comfortable and relaxed before treatment begins.

Typical Work Schedule for Dental Assistants

Most dental assistant positions are full-time jobs that are conducted during normal business hours. However, some offices may have late hours to accommodate appointments for 9-5 workers, so some dental assistants may work early evening hours.

Projected Job Growth for Dental Assistants

An increased number of people carrying dental insurance and an increased value of oral health care is expected to increase demand for individuals in all dental positions in the coming decade.

Typical Employers

Most dental assistants are employed by dentists that operate their own practices, or by groups of dentists that operate a shared practice.


How To Become a Dental Assistant

The process of becoming a dental assistant is dependent, in part, upon the regulations of the state you plan to work in. In some states, no formal education is required, and dental assistants with high school diplomas can learn the duties of the position with on-the-job training. Dental assistants without a formal education in the field are usually only able to perform tasks that assist the dentist, and are not allowed to perform actual dental procedures like taking x-rays, cleaning teeth, and applying sealants.

In other states, dental assistants must be licensed to perform their job responsibilities. Licensing requires students to complete a certificate or associate’s degree program—these are generally offered through community or vocational schools—and pass a licensing examination. Certificate programs usually require one year of coursework, while associate’s degree programs require two years of study. Programs must be accredited and recognized by the American Dental Association (ADA) to count towards licensing requirements.

Dental assistants with formal training who are licensed may be able to perform more advanced tasks like teeth cleanings and application of fluoride treatments and sealants. However, each state has its own regulations on what credentials a dental assistant must have, licensing requirements, and procedures dental assistants are allowed to perform, so it’s good for aspiring dental assistants to check the regulations of the state they want to practice in before pursuing education or training.


Dental Assistant Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

Low Range

$29,580

Average

$36,920

High Range

$50,660

National Hourly Wage

Low Range

$14/hr

Average

$18/hr

High Range

$24/hr

How do Dental Assistant salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Dental Assistant's can make an average annual salary of $36,920, or $18 per hour. This makes it an Above Average Salary. On the lower end, they can make $29,580 or $14 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #587 Nationally for All Careers


Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Dental Assistant. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.


Highest Education Among Dental Assistants

  • 1.6%   Doctorate
  • 0.5%   Masters
  • 7%   Bachelors
  • 17.8%   Associates
  • 40.5%   College
  • 29.9%   High School
  • 2.7%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs

318,800

2024 Est. Jobs

377,400

Job Growth Rate

18.4%

Est. New Jobs

58,600

How does Dental Assistant job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 58,600 jobs for a total of 377,400 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 18.4% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Below Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #68 Nationally for All Careers


What Companies Employ The Most Dental Assistants

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Offices of dentists 290,100 54,300 54%
Offices of physicians 6,400 1,400 1%
Federal government, excluding postal service 4,200 -400 0%

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