How Much Does A Dental Assistant Make?

In an environment of sharp equipment and tricky procedures, a dental assistant can be a source of solace and comfort for nervous patients at a dental office.  Most assistants are warm and friendly individuals who take the time to ask their patients questions and try to put their minds at ease.  Although these individuals are upfront and friendly, there is also an air of mystery surrounding them.  Because the dentist performs the main duties in the office, dental assistants tend to hover in the background and this causes people to question what they do.  Other questions also circulate such as how much do dental assistants make and what is the nature of their jobs?  The answers are more complicated than they might initially seem and should be taken into account by individuals interested in entering this field.

In order to determine the true annual income of dental assistants, several factors have to be taken into account.  These include the state an assistant is practicing in, the amount of education he or she has received, the type of practice he or she is working at, and the number of years that he or she has been practicing.  Each factor can contribute or take away from the hourly, and thus, yearly income of a dental assistant.

The State an Assistant is Practicing In

There are different income levels in various states because there are varying rules which regulate what a dental assistant is allowed to do.  The more duties that he or she is able to perform, the more well compensated this individual will be on a yearly basis.  The four duties that can greatly alter one’s pay scale include sealant application, plaque removal, fluoride cleaning, and anesthetic application.  In certain states, a dental assistant is able to perform all of these duties and is thus compensated for these extra skills.  However, in other states, none of these duties can be performed by an assistant and are instead done by either the dentist or a dental hygienist.  When this occurs, the assistant performs his or her main duties and takes on a lower pay scale.  Currently the highest paying states include Texas ($15/hour), Illinois ($15/hour), New York ($17/hour), and California ($17.50/hour).  The cost of living in a state can also alter the overall income of a dental assistant.

An Assistant’s Training and Education

The training a dental assistant receives, along with any previous education, can alter the amount he or she is paid and which practices decide to take him or her on.  Dental assistant training programs are usually offered through community colleges, private institutions, and in some cases, universities.  While private institutions may have a more specialized curriculum, university programs are usually more comprehensive and merit a higher pay scale.  The length of programs also varies, with some courses taking only 6 months while others take up to a year.  Shorter programs are generally not as highly regarded as longer programs and only small practices may decide to take on these assistants.  These lower-end practices are often not able to pay their assistants the amounts offered by larger and more established offices.

The Practice an Assistant Works At

The size and reputation of a dental office can also alter the amount an assistant makes.  Newer dentists with a smaller patient roster are often not able to pay significant amounts per hour.  However, these situations allow assistants and dentists to grow together in their careers and their incomes.  There is a lot of potential for pay growth if an assistant stays with a hard-working and ambitious young dentist.  For individuals looking for immediate income rewards, older and more established offices offer better pay and better benefits.  However, getting a job at these practices is highly competitive and an individual usually needs years of experience.

The Number of Years an Assistant Has Practiced

Similar to any other occupation, the more experience a person has the more he or she can demand in terms of salary.  While newer dental assistants usually start at $22,000 a year, more established assistants can command as much as $48,000 a year.  This is due largely to the significant skill sets that established dental assistants have acquired over the years.  There is also a familiarity that develops between a dentist and an assistant that allows for an easier and more efficient work place.

Job Factors Other Than Income

While the above factors influence the income that assistants receive, there are other elements that potential assistants need to keep in mind.  The job requires a high level of organization since assistants are required to sterilize equipment and prepare the work area for dentists and patients alike.  There is an equal amount of independent and social work in this occupation and assistants have to be adept at both.  While dental assistants do not perform surgeries or procedures, they must have a working knowledge of what dentists are doing so that they can hand over the proper tools.  If an individual is not able to follow order and think independently, then he or she will not find a lot of satisfaction in this occupation.  A person entering into this profession must have many more questions other than how much do dental assistants make.  Monetary compensation will not be enough in this technical and fast-paced job.

For potential assistants, it is important to note that income is not a fixed concept in the dental field.  People are paid according to the state they live in, their education, the size of their practice, and the number of years they have practiced.  Furthermore, other elements such as the highly organizational aspect of the job should be taken into consideration as well.  Being a dental assistant can be highly rewarding as long as the compensation is emotional as much as it is financial.

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