How Much Do Dental Assistants Make?


Dentist and her assistant performing dental drilling on young woman.

As an integral part of the dental healthcare team, dental assistants play a crucial role in ensuring smooth operations and providing quality patient care. From assisting dentists during procedures to managing administrative tasks, their responsibilities are diverse and demanding. If you’re considering a career as a dental assistant or are already in the field, understanding the earning potential is essential. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the factors that influence dental assistant salaries, provide insights into the job outlook, and offer tips to maximize your income potential.

Average Dental Assistant Salary in the United States

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for dental assistants in the United States was $38,660 as of May 2021. However, it’s important to note that salaries can vary significantly based on several factors, including location, experience, education, and certifications.

The BLS data also reveals that the lowest 10% of dental assistants earned less than $29,580 annually, while the highest 10% earned more than $59,540. This wide range highlights the potential for career growth and the impact of various factors on earning potential.

Factors Influencing Dental Assistant Salaries

Several key factors can influence the salary you can expect as a dental assistant:

1. Geographic Location

Where you work can significantly impact your earning potential as a dental assistant. Salaries tend to be higher in metropolitan areas and states with a higher cost of living. For example, dental assistants in states like Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Alaska earn some of the highest median salaries in the country, ranging from $46,640 to $51,820 annually.

On the other hand, states like West Virginia, Alabama, and Mississippi offer lower median salaries, typically ranging from $35,760 to $37,360 per year. It’s essential to consider the cost of living in your area when evaluating salary offers, as a higher salary may not necessarily translate to a better standard of living.

2. Experience and Skill Level

Like most professions, dental assistants with more years of experience and advanced skills tend to command higher salaries. As you gain expertise and demonstrate your value to the practice, you become more valuable, which can lead to increased compensation.

According to the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), Certified Dental Assistants (CDAs) with more than 10 years of experience can earn a median hourly wage of $25, while those just starting out in the profession earn around $19 per hour.

3. Education and Certifications

While formal education is not always required to become a dental assistant, obtaining certifications and completing accredited programs can significantly enhance your earning potential. Employers often prefer to hire certified dental assistants, as they demonstrate a commitment to professional development and possess a higher level of knowledge and skills.

The DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification is widely recognized and respected in the industry. According to their survey, CDAs earn about $4 more per hour than non-certified dental assistants. Additionally, dental assistants with multiple certifications, such as Expanded Functions Dental Auxiliary (EFDA) or Orthodontic Assistant certifications, can command even higher wages.

4. Work Setting

The type of dental practice or facility you work in can also impact your salary. Dental assistants employed by the federal government or in specialty practices, such as oral surgery or orthodontics, tend to earn higher salaries compared to those working in general dentistry practices.

According to the BLS, dental assistants working for the federal executive branch earned the highest median annual salary of $51,820 in May 2021, followed by those employed in outpatient care centers ($46,060) and offices of dentists ($44,670).

Job Outlook for Dental Assistants

The job outlook for dental assistants is promising, with employment projected to grow 6.9% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is driven by several factors, including:

  • Increased emphasis on preventive dental care and the link between oral health and overall well-being.
  • An aging population with greater dental care needs.
  • Dentists hiring more dental assistants to increase efficiency and productivity.

With an estimated 25,700 job openings projected each year, on average, over the next decade, dental assisting offers a stable and growing career path.

Tips for Maximizing Your Earning Potential as a Dental Assistant

While the average salary for dental assistants is respectable, there are several strategies you can employ to increase your earning potential:

  1. Pursue Certifications: Obtaining certifications, such as the CDA or EFDA, can significantly boost your marketability and earning power. These credentials demonstrate your commitment to professional development and specialized knowledge.
  2. Gain Experience: As you accumulate years of experience in the field, your value to potential employers increases. Seek opportunities to expand your skill set and take on additional responsibilities to demonstrate your versatility.
  3. Consider Specialization: Dental assistants working in specialty practices, such as orthodontics or oral surgery, often command higher salaries due to the specialized nature of their work. Explore these areas and obtain relevant certifications to increase your earning potential.
  4. Relocate to Higher-Paying Areas: While relocation may not be feasible for everyone, moving to a state or metropolitan area with higher average salaries for dental assistants can significantly impact your income.
  5. Negotiate Salary: Don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary, especially when you have valuable experience, certifications, or specialized skills. Research industry standards and be prepared to demonstrate your value to the practice.
  6. Pursue Continuing Education: Staying up-to-date with the latest techniques, technologies, and best practices in the dental field can make you a more valuable asset to your employer, potentially leading to higher compensation.
  7. Explore Career Advancement Opportunities: Many dental assistants eventually pursue roles such as office managers, dental hygienists, or even dentists themselves. Advancing your career within the dental field can open up new earning opportunities.


Dental assisting is a rewarding and growing profession that offers competitive salaries and opportunities for career growth. While the average salary for dental assistants in the United States is $38,660 annually, various factors, including location, experience, education, and certifications, can significantly impact your earning potential.

By pursuing certifications, gaining experience, considering specialization, and exploring career advancement opportunities, you can maximize your earning potential as a dental assistant. Additionally, staying up-to-date with industry trends, negotiating your salary, and being open to relocation can further enhance your income prospects.

As the demand for dental care continues to rise, dental assistants will play an increasingly vital role in ensuring efficient and high-quality patient care. By investing in your professional development and embracing opportunities for growth, you can build a rewarding and financially stable career in this dynamic field.

Remember, at Xhaowen, our mission is to provide valuable dental health information and keep you updated on the latest dental facts, tips, and advice. We honor the role of your oral microbiome and the mouth-body connection, ensuring you have access to the most up-to-date and authoritative resources for maintaining optimal oral health.

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