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How Much Do Dental Assistants Make?

Daniel Bal, MS.Ed
Updated July 20, 2023
Review the yearly salary of dental assistants, states where they can expect the highest pay, and ways in which they can increase earning potential.
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As more Americans gain access to dental insurance, the need for dentistry professionals continues to grow. One in-demand position that benefits from solid job security and a high satisfaction rate includes dental assistants.

Dental assistants work alongside dentists in caring for patients. They are responsible for tasks, such as preparing patients for procedures, instructing on proper oral care, and keeping records of dental treatments.

This page explores information on dental assistant salary, the highest-paying states, and ways in which they can increase their income.

Average Salary for Dental Assistants

The average salary for a dental assistant is $42,510 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS). The BLS also reports that the bottom 10% of dental assistants earn $29,580, while the top 10% earn $59,540 annually. Some of the major factors that influence these salary numbers include education, experience, practice setting, and geographical location.

Average Annual Salary
Source:BLS, May 2021

Average Hourly Wage
Source:BLS, May 2021

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The Highest-Paying States for Dental Assistants

The highest-paying states for dental assistants are spread throughout the country. Therefore, dental assistants can find areas in the north (Minnesota), east (Massachetts and New Hampshire), or west (Alaska and Oregon) that offer some of the highest wages.

Highest-Paying States
StateAverage Salary
New Hampshire$49,470

Source:U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

3 Ways to Increase Pay As a Dental Assistant

There are several ways dental assistants can increase their annual salary, including earning certification, focusing on a higher-paying dental specialty, or switching practice settings.

  1. 1

    Become a Certified Dental Assistant

    The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) offers the certified dental assistant (CDA) certification. According to the DANB, CDAs earn $2 more per hour compared to other dental assistants. Earning the certification has also been tied to income growth, with 61% of CDAs receiving a raise in their current position, while only 45% of non-certified dental assistants receive an increase in pay.

    To be eligible to become a CDA, dental assistants must complete the following:

    • Graduate from a dental program accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation and possess CPR certification or earn a high school diploma, complete 3,500 hours of relevant work experience, and possess CPR certification
    • Pass three component exams that consist of general chairside assisting, radiation and health safety, and infection control.
  2. 2

    Pursue a Higher Earning Dental Specialty

    By focusing on specialized dentistry practices, dental assistants can increase their compensation. According to the DANB, dental assistants who work in the field of orthodontics ($23.50 hourly), oral surgery ($24.00 hourly), or prosthodontics ($25.68 hourly) earn higher annual pay than those who work in general dentistry ($22.50 hourly).

  3. 3

    Change Your Practice Setting

    Practice setting can play a significant role in determining the pay of a dental assistant. According to the BLS, dental assistants who work for state governments, excluding schools and hospitals, earn $50,170 per year.

    Specialty hospitals ($48,210), home health care services ($47,930), general medical and surgical hospitals ($47,180), and the federal executive branch ($45,970) round out the top five highest-paid settings for dental assistants.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dental Assistant Salaries

question-mark-circleWhat are the highest-paying cities for dental assistants?

As reported by the BLS, the top-paying metropolitan areas for dental assistants are mainly found in California and Minnesota. They include San Francisco, CA ($55,150); Minneapolis, MN ($55,020); San Jose, CA ($54,590); Santa Rosa, CA ($52,550); and Rochester, MN ($52,510).

question-mark-circleWhat is the best degree to become a dental assistant?

The best degree for dental assistants depends upon each state’s individual requirements. While some states do not require any type of education beyond a high school diploma, others mandate the completion of an associate degree or a certification program offered through a technical or vocational school.

question-mark-circleWhat is the starting salary for dental assistants?

According to Payscale, entry-level dental assistants earn an average hourly salary of $14.37. As they gain experience, their pay continues to rise. Dental assistants with 1-4 years of experience earn $15.59 hourly; those with 5-9 years earn $18.13 hourly; those with 10-19 years earn $19.52 hourly; and professionals with 20 or more years of experience make $20.68 an hour.

question-mark-circleWhat are the highest-paying industries for dental assistants?

The BLS reports that the highest-paying industries for dental assistants include state governments, specialty hospitals, home health care services, general medical and surgical hospitals, and the federal government. Salaries within these industries range from $45,070 – $50,170.

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