How to Advance (Advancement)
Without further education, advancement opportunities are limited. Some dental assistants become office managers, dental-assisting instructors, dental product sales representatives, or insurance claims processors for dental insurance companies. Others go back to school to become dental hygienists. For many, this entry-level occupation provides basic training and experience and serves as a steppingstone to more highly skilled and higher paying jobs. Assistants wishing to take on expanded functions or perform radiological procedures may choose to complete coursework in those functions allowed under State regulation or, if required, obtain a State-issued license.
Dental assistants held about 295,300 jobs in 2008. About 93 percent of all jobs for dental assistants were in offices of dentists. A small number of jobs were in the Federal, State, and local governments or in offices of physicians.
Employment is expected to increase much faster than average; job prospects are expected to be excellent.
Employment is expected to grow 36 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. In fact, dental assistants are expected to be among the fastest growing occupations over the 2008–18 projection period. Population growth, greater retention of natural teeth by middle-aged and older people, and an increased focus on preventative dental care for younger generations will fuel demand for dental services. Older dentists, who have been less likely to employ assistants or have employed fewer, are leaving the occupation and will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to use one or more assistants. In addition, as dentists' workloads increase, they are expected to hire more assistants to perform routine tasks, so that they may devote their own time to more complex procedures.
Job prospects should be excellent, as dentists continue to need the aid of qualified dental assistants. There will be many opportunities for entry-level positions, but some dentists prefer to hire experienced assistants, those who have completed a dental-assisting program, or have met State requirements to take on expanded functions within the office.
In addition to job openings due to employment growth, some job openings will arise out of the need to replace assistants who transfer to other occupations, retire, or leave for other reasons.
Median annual wages of dental assistants were $32,380 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $26,980 and $38,960. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,270, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $46,150.
Benefits vary substantially by practice setting and may be contingent upon full-time employment. According to a 2008 survey conducted by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), 86 percent of Certified Dental Assistants (CDA) reported receiving paid vacation from their employers, and more than half of CDAs received health benefits.
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