Dental assistants are projected to be one of the fastest growing careers, with a 38% increase projected through 2018 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Population growth, a greater percentage of elderly with natural teeth, and increasing emphasis on dental health will keep demand for dental assistants high. Dental assistants perform a wide variety of administrative and laboratory functions supporting a dental practice, with responsibilities varying widely by practice and experience level.
Starting salary range
The starting dental assistant salary ranges from $9.07/hour (Utah) to $12.08/hour (Alaska)*.
A dental assistant's median salary is $32,963 and maximum dental assistant salaries top out at over $39,000**. There is not much variance based on institution size according to Payscale's Median Salary by Company Size Charts.
Opportunities for advancement
A dental assistant's advancement is often dependent on additional education. Dental assistants with experience and additional education may advance to a dental office management and administration roles. Dental assistants may advance by completing a 2 or 4 year program to become a dental hygienist. Dental assistants can also advance by joining dental product companies, dental insurance companies as claims processors, or as instructors for dental assistant programs. Some dental assistants advance by taking courses or passing licensure (depends on the state) to work as a dental radiology technicians.
Benefits and perks
Health care, paid time off, pension, education reimbursement, sick days, insurance, bonus, and taxes increase the total compensation package by an average 32.6%**, bringing the median total dental assistant compensation to $48,875.
Salary negotiation tips
Negotiating salary can be tricky. Mid-sized and large institutions (hospitals, government health agencies, universities, or private companies) typically set up a salary range (or salary band), so the organization will have a little room to move on salaries (about 5-10%). Smaller organizations, such as private dental practices are less likely to have as much wiggle room on salary. Either way, don't expect an employer to give you a higher salary just because you ask. Instead, prepare a well documented justification and stay within the organization's salary range for the specific position so you'll have a good chance at getting the salary increase you're targeting.
Your greatest ability to negotiate salary is when you have options. Interview with a number of hospitals, dental practices, federal/state/local government health agencies, universities, Veterans Administration, and private companies. In addition, do your homework – get salary information from e with or from staffing and recruiting firms in your industry. Sometimes just having research on average salaries for your local market may provide rationale for a higher salary.
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* According to www.payscale.com.
** According to www.salary.com