Vt. tops list of states with best pay for dental assistants

By Emily Hayes, DrBicuspid.com contributing writer

July 20, 2021 -- Vermont tops the list of states with the best hourly pay rates for dental assistants, according to a new survey conducted by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). Delaware, Washington, Arkansas, and Massachusetts rounded out the top five spots.

The DANB carries out its Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey every two years. The latest for 2020-2021 surveyed almost 1,400 dental assistant professionals in the U.S.

According to the results, Vermont was the highest paid state, with a median hourly rate of $29.47. Meanwhile, dental assistants in Alabama, the state with the lowest pay rate, made almost half that at $15.01 an hour.

While Vermont was the highest paying state overall, dental assistants in Santa Rosa, CA, live in the top-paying metropolitan area in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Santa Rosa, the hourly mean wage is $28.16, and the annual mean salary is $58,570.

"Salary is the most important factor to dental assistants, so it's helpful for dental practices to ensure they are paying a competitive wage," the DANB said in a statement about the survey results.

Pay rates for dental assistants by state
State Median hourly rate
Top 5 paying states
Vermont $29.47
Delaware* $26.50
Washington state $25
Arkansas $25
Massachusetts $24.50
Bottom 5 paying states
Alabama $15.01
West Virginia $15.75
Kentucky $16
Kansas $17.50
Louisiana $18
*Delaware information is from 2018 due to insufficient data collected in 2020 survey.

The DANB reported higher pay for professionals who had undergone its Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) program. CDA certificants made a median hourly pay of $22.09, compared with $19.80 overall, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Dental professionals with CDA certification tended to be more educated and to perform more advanced functions on the job, such as ordering supplies and helping to manage dental offices.

The survey also broke down pay for assistants with the CDA certification based on a range of factors including length of experience. Those with one to two years of experience earned a median of $19.50 per hour, compared with $24 for professionals with at least 20 years of experience.

Pay for dental assistants with CDA certification by length of experience
< 1 year $17.50
1-2 years $19.50
3-5 years $19.54
6-10 years $22
11-15 years $23
16-19 years $22.75
20+ years $24

Survey respondents also reported on their job satisfaction. In addition to salary, respondents rated work-life balance and feeling part of a team as the most important factors for job satisfaction.

Job satisfaction was higher for those who had CDA certification compared with those who were not certified. Of those surveyed, 78% of certified professionals reported high or very high satisfaction, compared with 72% of those who were not certified, the DANB found.

"Surveyed dental assistants reported that the most rewarding aspects of their jobs were making a difference in patients' lives, helping patients improve their oral health, and patient relationships and gratitude," the DANB said.


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