What They Do: Dental assistants provide patient care, take x rays, recordkeeping and schedule appointments.
Work Environment: Almost all dental assistants work in dentists’ offices. Most work full time.
How to Become One: There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements and dental assistants learn how to perform their jobs through on-the-job training.
Salary: The median annual wage for dental assistants is $38,660.
Job Outlook: Employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.
Related Careers: Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of dental assistants with similar occupations.
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Dental assistants perform many tasks, ranging from patient care and taking x rays to recordkeeping and scheduling appointments. Their duties vary by state and by the dentists' offices where they work.
Dental assistants typically do the following:
Assistants who perform lab tasks, such as taking impressions of a patient's teeth, work under the direction of a dentist. They may prepare materials for dental impressions or to create temporary crowns.
Dental assistants are allowed to perform the following procedures in some states:
Coronal polishing, which means removing soft deposits such as plaque, gives teeth a cleaner appearance. In sealant application, a dental assistant paints a thin, plastic substance over teeth that seals out food particles and acid-producing bacteria to keep teeth from developing cavities. Fluoride application, in which fluoride is put directly on the teeth, is another anticavity measure. Some dental assistants may be qualified to apply topical anesthetic to an area of a patient's mouth, temporarily numbing the area to help prepare a patient for procedures.
Each state regulates the scope of practice for dental assistants.
Dental assistants hold about 358,600 jobs. The largest employers of dental assistants are as follows:
|Offices of dentists||91%|
|Offices of physicians||2%|
Dental assistants work under the supervision of dentists and work closely with dental hygienists in their day-to-day activities.
Dental assistants wear safety glasses, surgical masks, protective clothing, and gloves to protect themselves and patients from infectious diseases. They also must follow safety procedures to minimize risks associated with x-ray machines.
Most dental assistants work full time. Some work evenings or weekends.
Get the education you need: Find schools for Dental Assistants near you!
There are several possible paths to becoming a dental assistant. Some states require assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. In other states, there are no formal educational requirements and dental assistants learn how to do their jobs through on-the-job training.
Some states require dental assistants to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam. Most programs are offered by community colleges, although they also may be offered by vocational or technical schools. Most programs take about 1 year to complete and lead to a certificate or diploma. Programs that last 2 years are less common and lead to an associate's degree. The Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), part of the American Dental Association, accredited nearly 300 dental assisting training programs in 2017.
Accredited programs include classroom and laboratory work. Students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on and the instruments that dentists use. These programs also include supervised practical experience.
High school students interested in a career as a dental assistant should take courses in biology, chemistry, and anatomy.
Dental assistants who do not have formal education in dental assisting may learn their duties through on-the-job training. A dental assistant, hygienist, or dentist in the office teaches the new assistant dental terminology, the names of the instruments, how to complete daily tasks, how to interact with patients, and other activities necessary to help keep the dental office running smoothly.
Detail oriented. Dental assistants must follow specific rules and protocols, such as infection control procedures, when helping dentists treat patients. Assistants also must be aware of what tasks they are allowed to complete in the state where they work.
Dexterity. Dental assistants must be good at working with their hands. They generally work in tight quarters on a small part of the body, using very precise tools and instruments.
Interpersonal skills. Dental assistants must work closely with dentists and patients. Sometimes patients are in extreme pain and/or mental distress, so the assistant should be sensitive to their emotions.
Listening skills. Dental assistants must listen to patients and other healthcare workers. They need to follow directions from a dentist or dental hygienist, so they can help treat patients and do tasks, such as taking x rays.
Organizational skills. Dental assistants should have excellent organizational skills. They should have the correct tools in place for a dentist or dental hygienist to use when treating a patient.
States typically do not require licenses for entry-level dental assistants. Some states require dental assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified for entry or advancement. States may require assistants to meet specific licensing requirements in order to work in radiography (x ray), infection control, or other specialties. For specific requirements, contact your state's Board of Dental Examiners.
States that allow assistants to perform expanded duties, such as coronal polishing, require that they be licensed, registered, or hold certifications from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). To earn certification from DANB, applicants must pass an exam. The educational requirements for DANB certification are that dental assistants must either have graduated from an accredited program or have a high school diploma and complete the required amount of work experience. Applicants also must have current certification in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation).
The median annual wage for dental assistants is $38,660. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $29,580, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $59,540.
The median annual wages for dental assistants in the top industries in which they work are as follows:
|Offices of dentists||$38,500|
|Offices of physicians||$38,000|
Most dental assistants work full time. Some may work evenings or weekends.
Employment of dental assistants is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, faster than the average for all occupations.
About 56,400 openings for dental assistants are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Ongoing research linking oral health and general health will continue to increase demand for preventive dental services. Dentists will continue to hire dental assistants to complete routine tasks, allowing dentists to work more efficiently. As dental practices grow, more dental assistants will be needed.
The large baby-boom population continues to enter older age groups, which typically have more problems related to oral health than younger people do. In addition, people keep more of their original teeth now than in previous generations, leading to continued increases in the need for dental care to maintain and treat teeth.
|Occupational Title||Employment, 2021||Projected Employment, 2031||Change, 2021-31|
For more information about becoming a dental assistant and for a list of accredited dental assistant programs, visit
American Dental Assistants Association
Commission on Dental Accreditation, American Dental Association
For more information about becoming a Certified Dental Assistant and for a list of state boards of dentistry, visit
A portion of the information on this page is used by permission of the U.S. Department of Labor.