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If you are thinking about becoming a dental assistant, now might be the time. A recent economic poll conducted by the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Health Policy Institute found that 68% of dentists participating in the poll expressed confidence in the economic well-being of their practices—and nearly the same percentage viewed the dental care industry overall as healthy and poised for growth.
They may be on to something: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the outlook for job growth for dental assistants is projected to be 8.4% through 2031, faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS also anticipates about 30,000 job openings for dental assistants each year through 2031 due to job growth, retirements, promotions, and transfers. Currently, the national median annual salary for dental assistants is $38,660.
The BLS anticipates about 30,000 job openings for dental assistants each year through 2031.
While the national outlook is strong, some states may present better opportunities for dental assistants than others, depending on your priorities. With more than 48,000, California ranks number one in jobs but did not make our Top 10 Best States because of its high cost of living. However, given the large number of jobs, there is a good chance of changing positions within the state should the need arise. Minnesota pays the highest median annual wage ($53,080), but just missed landing in the Top 10 because of its lower rank in other categories. However, if money is your top priority, Minnesota is a consideration.
Best States to Work for Dental Assistants
We determined that the following states are the 10 Best States for Dental Assistants after sorting the data, reviewing the numbers, and doing the rankings. Each state is unique, but collectively they represent the states with the most jobs, the highest median wages, the highest location quotient and the lowest cost of living.
- Median salary: $46,410
- Cost of living index: 112.8
- Employment: 9,390
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.31
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 19.4%
State highlights: Known for its tech industry, majestic mountains, and emphasis on health, the Evergreen State snags the top spot by finishing in the Top 10 in three categories: employment, median salary, and location quotient—and projected job growth is forecast to be a robust 19.4%. The only downside: at 112.8, the state’s cost-of-living index is higher than the national average (100.0).
- Median salary: $39,170
- Cost of living index: 92.6
- Employment: 29,950
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.10
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 35.8%
State highlights: “Texas-sized” takes on a whole new meaning when looking at forecasted job growth for dental assistant in Texas. At 35.8%, it’s significantly higher than any other state. Texas also boasts the second highest employment level, along with a high location quotient, making it attractive for dental assistants in many ways.
- Median salary: $44,080
- Cost of living index: 105.8
- Employment: 8,390
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.45
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 21.9%
State highlights: The Centennial State has one of the more robust job growth forecasts on our list, as well as the second highest location quotient in the rankings. Breathtaking vistas coupled with a western vibe, along with solid employment metrics, could make Colorado a good match for dental assistants who love the outdoors.
#4 North Carolina
- Median salary: $44,920
- Cost of living index: 96.4
- Employment: 9,260
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 0.96
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 20.8%
State highlights: North Carolina is a mix of north and south and is known for eclectic things, including its impressive medical community, its southern charm, the Wright brothers’ first flight at Kitty Hawk, and the birth of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Cost of living is reasonable and dental assistant job growth is expected to be strong.
- Median salary: $40,030
- Cost of living index: 90.5
- Employment: 11,390
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 0.90
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 5.3%
State highlights: Ranking fifth in employment and ninth in cost of living—and with moderate rankings in other categories, Illinois is “steady as she goes” and a good match for those seeking a solid midwestern environment.
- Median salary: $40,320
- Cost of living index: 101.5
- Employment: 20,690
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 1.09
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 16.9%
State highlights: Third in employment out of all states, with impressive projected job growth and a high location quotient—not to mention the golf, the beaches and the world-famous attractions—all make Florida an attractive consideration for dental assistants.
- Median salary: $39,960
- Cost of living index: 89.8
- Employment: 8,150
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 0.84
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 14.2%
State highlights: As one of the most affordable states, the Peach State—with significant projected growth—is a strong contender for anyone looking for a dental assistant position in the south.
- Median salary: $40,880
- Cost of living index: 91.1
- Employment: 5,980
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 0.91
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 11.2%
State highlights: As states go, it’s not the biggest or the flashiest, but Indiana ended up ranking a solid eighth overall for dental assistants. The University of Notre Dame is located here, and the state was once home to Olympian swimmer Mark Spitz. It has also been home to five U.S. vice-presidents, and one president.
- Median salary: $40,390
- Cost of living index: 92.9
- Employment: 9,780
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 0.85
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 2.5%
State highlights: Ohio is one of the more densely populated states in the country and ranks sixth in employment for dental assistants. It also has a history of strong organizations and association for both dental and medical professionals.
- Median salary: $44,500
- Cost of living index: 90.3
- Employment: 3,030
- Location quotient (density of jobs): 0.92
- Forecast for growth (2018-2028): 14.8%
State highlights: With the smallest employment base in the Top 10, Iowa is an unlikely state to make the final Top 10 list. However, Iowa snags the final spot because it is more affordable than many states, the job pays pretty well in Iowa, and the percentage of growth forecast over a 10-year period is substantial.
Dental Assistant Salaries at a Glance
States with the highest median annual salary:
- Minnesota: $53,620
- Massachusetts: $51,150
- New Hampshire: $50,080
States with the lowest median annual salary:
- Alabama: $32,070
- West Virginia: $31,730
- Mississippi: $30,310
Ranking the Rest: 11-50 Rankings for Medical Assistants
|State||Median Salary||Employment||Location Quotient (density of jobs)|
|#16 New Jersey||$44,770||8,020||0.95|
|#20 South Carolina||$40,040||4,580||1.01|
|#22 New Mexico||$35,980||2,460||1.40|
|#32 New York||$42,510||14,420||0.74|
|#33 North Dakota||$47,500||770||0.86|
|#38 New Hampshire||$50,080||1,150||0.82|
|#40 South Dakota||$40,460||840||0.91|
|#45 Rhode Island||$46,540||730||0.73|
|#47 West Virginia||$31,730||1,080||0.74|
About the Job
According to the ADA, “the duties of a dental assistant are among the most comprehensive and varied in the dental office.” State regulations vary, but responsibilities may include:
- Assisting the dentist during procedures
- Taking and developing X-rays
- Recording the patient’s medical history; taking blood pressure and pulse
- Providing patients with instructions following surgeries and procedures
- Instructing patients about oral hygiene
- Performing office management tasks
- Communicating with patients, scheduling appointments, and handling billing
Dental assistants work in a variety of environments, including dental offices, group practices, hospital clinics, public health agencies, and insurance companies. They receive education and training through programs at community colleges, vocational schools, technical institutes, universities, or dental schools. Depending on state regulations, some may learn through on-the-job training.
Dental assistants work in a variety of environments, including dental offices, group practices, hospital clinics, public health agencies, and insurance companies.
Successful dental assistants are detail-oriented, skilled at working with people, adept at working with those who fear dentists or are sensitive to pain, are good listeners, and are well-organized.
How Advancing Your Career May Advance your Salary
While some states do not require licensing for entry-level dental assistants, others require dental assistants to be licensed, registered, or certified for entry level jobs, specialization in some areas (like radiography or infection control), or advancement. Requirements vary by state. While many states may not require certification as a dental assistant or a college degree, many employers often prefer dental assistants with national entry-level certification or those who are certified dental assistants. Certifications, graduation from approved programs, and undergraduate degrees may help you land the jobs you want and help in career advancement as well.
Top States Ranking Methodology
We started with the four main questions you might ask yourself when thinking about which states are best for dental assistants:
- Where are the jobs?
- How much can I earn?
- What is the cost of living?
- What is the job outlook?
To answer these questions, we pulled data for each state from three sources:
Employment, annual median wage, and location quotient: From the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Dental Assistants
Cost of living index: From the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center’s (MERIC) Cost of Living Data Series
10-year job growth percentage of change: From the U.S. Department of Labor’s Projections Central site for state employment projections, recommended by the BLS for state employment projections
To determine the rank of each state:
- We loaded employment, annual median wage, location quotient, and cost of living index data for each state
- We ranked each data element in relation to all states
- We totaled the rankings for each state
- In the event of ties in ranking, we used the 10-year job growth percentage-of-change as a tie-breaker
Definition of the data elements:
Employment: The current number of dental assistant jobs in each state
Annual median wage: The mid-point for annual earnings of all dental assistants; half earn below this midpoint and half earn above the midpoint
Location quotient: The ratio of dental assistant employment in a state compared to the national average concentration. A location quotient greater than one indicates that dental assistants in the state have a higher share of employment concentration than the national average, and a location quotient less than one indicates the occupation is less prevalent in the state than it is nationally.
Cost of living index: Derived by averaging costs in each state for living expenses, including housing, groceries, transportation, and health. One hundred is the national average. Because they are more affordable compared to the national average, states with an index below 100 are ranked higher than those with an index above 100 (which are more costly than the national average).
10-year job growth percentage: Indicates the projected percentage of growth over a 10-year period. This data element is used in reporting and as a tie-breaker for rankings.
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