Dental assistants play a vital role in dental offices, helping dentists provide quality care to patients. Their duties can range from administrative tasks to hands-on procedures, depending on the state they work in. So what type of pay can dental assistants expect for this important job? Here’s an overview of dental assistant pay, factors that influence it, and how to earn a higher salary in this career.

Pay Overview

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual pay for dental assistants in the United States as of May 2021 was $40,080 per year or $19.27 per hour. This equals approximately $3,340 per month.

However, dental assistant salaries can vary significantly based on these key factors:


Where you work makes a major impact on dental assistant pay. For example, the top-paying states for dental assistants are:

  • Alaska: $47,550 annual / $22.86 hourly
  • California: $45,880 annual / $22.05 hourly
  • Connecticut: $45,570 annual / $21.91 hourly

Meanwhile, the lowest-paying states include:

  • West Virginia: $30,290 annual / $14.56 hourly
  • Arkansas: $32,840 annual / $15.79 hourly
  • Mississippi: $33,450 annual / $16.08 hourly

Working in a metropolitan area rather than a rural location can also boost pay.


As dental assistants gain expertise and expand their skills over time, their earnings also increase. According to the BLS, experienced dental assistants in the 10th-90th percentile range make:

  • 10th percentile: $29,980 annual / $14.41 hourly
  • 50th percentile: $38,520 annual / $18.52 hourly
  • 90th percentile: $52,880 annual / $25.43 hourly

Duties and Credentials

What type of work a dental assistant performs significantly affects pay. Broadly speaking, there are two types of dental assistants:

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants handle more administrative, clerical, and basic supportive tasks such as:

  • Scheduling appointments
  • Maintaining patient records
  • Sterilizing instruments
  • Assisting the dentist during procedures

These duties usually only require a high school diploma or postsecondary certificate to perform. Average pay is $37,630 per year / $18.09 per hour.

Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienists complete more advanced clinical procedures such as:

  • Cleaning teeth
  • Applying sealants and fluoride
  • Performing head and neck exams
  • Taking dental x-rays

Most states require dental hygienists to hold an Associate’s degree in Dental Hygiene. Their average salary is significantly higher at $76,220 per year / $36.65 per hour.

Type of Office

  • General dentistry offices often pay slightly less than specialty practices.
  • Dental offices in hospitals pay more on average.
  • Government dental offices tend to offer better benefits like pensions but lower base pay.
  • Corporate group practices can offer higher pay than private individual offices.

With this overview of the factors that influence pay, what steps can you take to earn more as a dental assistant?

How to Increase Your Salary

Here are some tips to maximize your salary potential as a dental assistant:

  • Earn formal credentials – Complete a 1-2 year dental assisting program to gain skills and qualifications beyond on-the-job training. Some states require formal credentials.
  • Get certified – Become a Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) which requires passing the DANB exam. This can boost your pay and job prospects.
  • Develop advanced skills – Train in digital x-rays, restorative procedures, coronal polishing, sealants, and orthodontic assisting for better pay opportunities.
  • Gain experience – Work for several years as an assistant to move up to higher pay brackets. Consider specializing in a type of dentistry for more expertise.
  • Move to a higher paying state or metro area – If your location has below average pay, relocating can significantly lift your earnings.
  • Negotiate your salary – When accepting a job offer, don’t hesitate to counter the initial offer to negotiate a higher starting pay.
  • Ask for raises – As you gain more responsibilities and skills, request pay increases from your employer. Switch jobs if your current workplace does not reward growth.

The payoff for dental assistants who pursue continuing education, specialty training, and valuable experience can be very lucrative over the course of a career. Top performers take steps to boost their earnings potential.

Dental Assistant Pay FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about dental assistant pay and outlook:

How much do dental assistants make starting out?

On average, dental assistants with less than 1 year of experience typically make between $25,000 – $35,000 per year. Those just starting out usually fall in the 10th-25th percentile for pay.

Which states pay dental assistants the most?

The top-paying states for dental assisting are Alaska, California, Connecticut, Washington, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Average pay exceeds $44,000 annually in these states.

What degree do you need to be a dental assistant?

Most dental assistants have a high school diploma or equivalent and learn through on-the-job training. However, completing a certificate, diploma or Associate’s degree program in dental assisting can lead to higher pay and more job opportunities.

Do dental assistants get paid hourly or salary?

Most dental assistants are paid an hourly wage. Their schedules may be part-time or full-time. In some cases, experienced dental assistants may earn an annual salary instead of an hourly wage.

What is the job outlook for dental assistants?

Employment for dental assistants is projected to grow 11% from 2021 to 2031, according to the BLS. This is significantly faster than the average job growth rate. More dentists in practices, new dental procedures, and an aging population needing dental care will drive demand.

Can you work from home as a dental assistant?

Since dental assisting involves clinical tasks like taking x-rays and assisting chairside, the job typically cannot be done from home. However, some administrative dental assistant duties could potentially be done remotely.

With strong job prospects and opportunities to earn higher pay through experience and credentials, dental assisting is an excellent career choice for those interested in healthcare.

Categories: Health & Care


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