Dental Assisting is one of the fastest growing occupations in the health care support field. People who are detail oriented, take instruction well, and have good interpersonal and organizational skills excel in these positions and have the potential to earn an average of over $16 per hour.
Dental assistants are responsible for patient care and administrative tasks. In addition to assisting the dentist or dental hygienist during procedures such as teeth cleanings and in-office surgeries, they sterilize and prepare equipment, complete laboratory test and x-rays, and instruct patients in proper dental care and hygiene. Administrative tasks include scheduling appointments, managing patient records, billing and taking payments. Duties vary from state to state, depending on the regulations for that state, the education the dental assistant has completed, and the requirements of the particular office in which they work.
While some states have no educational requirements for dental assistants, others require graduation from an accredited program and passing a state exam. Continuing education may be necessary to gain additional skills.
Dental assistants held 297,200 positions in 2010, the most recent year data is available. Job outlook is better than average, with an estimated 31% increase in available positions over the next ten years. As the large number of baby-boomers age, all health care support occupations will see an increase in positions, but due to increased dental care, this generation has maintained more of their original teeth than previous ones. Additionally, new evidence linking good oral health to increased overall health means there is more work for dentists. Hiring additional assistants to do the routine work allows dentist offices to treat more patients. (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm#tab-1)
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average earnings for dental assistants in 2010 were $16.70 per hour ($34,140 per year). The lowest 10% earned $11.10 per hour ($23,080 per year), and the highest 10% earned $22.80 per hour ($47,420 per year). Average earnings for a dental assistant is approximately $10,000 above the average for other health care support occupations.
Wages for dental assistants can vary by region and demographic. Those working in metropolitian areas such as the District of Columbia can earn an average of $23.00 per hour. In more non-metropolitian areas, dental assistants can range from $11 to $13 per hour. Earnings also vary by state. A dental assistant working in Texas or Florida averages $15 to $16 per hour, while those in California or New York average over $17 per hour.
The type of office a dental assistant works in can affect their earnings as well. Most work in dentist offices and average $16.50 per hour. Those working for for the Federal Executive Branch can make over $18 per hour, and those employed in physicians offices may earn $15.75 per hour. More than half of dental assistants work full time, although many can earn a decent part-time living with more flexible hours for home or school obligations. Occasional evening or weekend hours may be required depending on where the dental assistant works.
For those thinking about careers in health care support, dental assistants earn above average wages and can complete their education in one to two years from one of the 285 programs approved by the American Dental Association.