Salary is always a hot talking point among dental assistants, and this is especially true now. Over the past 18 months, dental assistants have shared that they have taken on more responsibilities around the office, which underscores the valuable role they play in patient health and safety.
So, how much do dental assistants make? And has the average dental assistant salary increased over the past year or two? The latest survey results from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) can provide some answers.
What is the average dental assistant salary?
According to DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, dental assistants who hold DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification have higher earning power than those who are not certified. Dental assistants who hold DANB’s CDA certification reported earning a median hourly wage of $22.09 compared to the national median rate of $19.80 per hour.*
However, a dental assistant’s salary can vary, depending on many factors such as experience, education, practice type and geographical location. Generally, dental assistants in major metropolitan areas tend to earn more than dental assistants who live in smaller towns. And some states are known for paying higher wages than others.
To see the median hourly wage by state, you can download DANB’s Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey to see the earnings of CDA-certified assistants. You can also visit the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to see the median hourly wages of all dental assistants by state and region.
Have dental assistant salaries increased?
On to the next question: Have wages increased? Overall, the answer seems to be yes. In May 2021, the ADA Health Policy Institute reported that 73% of surveyed dentists said the pay rate for dental assistants had increased since COVID-19.
And looking at the past five years of data from the BLS, dental assistants’ wages have increased on average about 2% per year, or about 50 cents per hour.
DANB’s surveys also show this trend to be true for CDA certificants, who saw median hourly wages rise from $20.76 in 2018 to $22.09 in 2020.
However, according to DANB survey respondents, 78% of dental assistants said their pay rate has stayed the same since spring 2020.
So it seems that dental assistant wages are increasing, but perhaps not for all dental assistants or to a level that makes a meaningful difference to dental assistants’ financial situation. That leads to the next question: How can dental assistants grow their careers and their earnings?
How to increase your dental assistant salary
One key way dental assistants can show employers (and patients!) their commitment, knowledge and skillset is through earning DANB certification. For the past 20 years, DANB’s research has shown that dental assistants who earn and maintain DANB’s CDA certification earn about $2 more per hour than non-certified assistants.
Samantha, CDA, has maintained DANB certification since May 2019. And this seems to have paid off! Over the past year, she has earned a promotion, which came with a salary increase. “Once I earned CDA certification, I was offered the opportunity to step up to the plate and become the lead assistant, so that’s why I received a raise,” Samantha is proud to share.
In addition to holding national certification with DANB, dental assistants can grow their salary in other ways, such as earning state credentials, completing continuing education, taking on expanded duties as allowed by their state, and gaining more experience.
After enhancing their professional credentials, dental assistants may wish to consider having a conversation with their employer about a potential raise. “The reason I’ve gotten raises in my career is because I’ve asked,” says Angela, who has been a dental assistant for about 23 years.
This is backed by the latest research: DANB’s survey results showed that dental assistants who ask for and receive raises earn more than dental assistants who have never asked for a raise. As Sarah, CDA, shares: “I did receive a raise this past year, due to me having a very honest conversation with my employer. I now have a higher salary that I’m happy with.”
Briana received a raise over the past year, and describes an overall positive experience working as a dental assistant at what she calls “one of the best offices.” Her employer values and rewards productivity, she says: “We get bonuses when we meet our goals for the month.”
“Honestly, the dental assisting job itself is rewarding enough,” adds Heather, CDA. “And the extra bonus from the boss is nice, too!”
What are your thoughts? Contact us.
*Compared to figures from the 2020 Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Figures are based on median hourly wages of dental assistants working full time (35+ hours per week).