Dental Assistant Salary: Your Earnings and Career Guide

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Dental assistants provide important patient care during dental procedures. Find out more about this popular dentistry role and how you can get started today.

[Featured image] A dental assistant speaks with a patient in the dentist's office.

A dental assistant assists a dentist during dental procedures and provides patient care including checking vitals, educating patients on oral health, and taking radiographs. Dental assistants may also perform office management tasks and handle patient communication and appointment scheduling. 

What do dental assistants do?

Duties and responsibilities may vary slightly based on the industry and your employer. However, typical tasks of a dental assistant working in a traditional clinical setting within a dentist’s or physician’s office may include: 

  • Assisting a dentist with dental procedures 

  • Ensuring a patient feels comfortable and informed 

  • Conducting clerical tasks for the management and operations of a dental or physician’s office

  • Communicating with patients about scheduling, medications, billing, or other matters 

  • Informing patients of aftercare instructions regarding procedures  

  • Sterilizing equipment and dental tools

  • Taking and processing radiographs for dentists 

Common work environment

Dental assistants most commonly work in a dental office but can work in other spaces as well, including educational facilities, hospitals, or insurance agencies. 

Other top employers of dental assistants include offices of physicians, ambulatory health services, and dental laboratories.. Most of these positions are full-time, but some jobs outside of a traditional dental office setting may offer part-time options. 

Job outlook

Job Bank Canada projects that job outlook across Canada will be moderate to good for dental assistants. The Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS) reports that there were 37,300 dental assistants working in Canada in 2021 and there will be an estimated 17,100 jobs added by 2031 [1].

What is the average dental assistant salary?

The average annual salary of dental assistants in Canada is $57,005 [2]. Reported salaries on Glassdoor range from $43,000 to $56,000. Factors that can impact a dental assistant's salary include certification, location, years of experience, and employer. 

Factors that affect salary

There are several factors that can affect the salary outlook for dental assistants. Holding additional certifications and working in an area where there’s a high need for dental assistants can mean that you may earn more per year, while working for a smaller practice or a lower-need area can mean that you earn a little less than the national average. 

  • Geographic location: Where you work within Canada will impact your salary. The top three highest-paying territories or provinces are Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland and Labrador. On the lower end of the chart are Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick. Cost of living is likely a factor in these salary swings by location, but there's also a correlation between the concentration of dental assistants and salary. Areas with higher employment rates of dental assistants and a higher need for these professionals may pay slightly more, especially within densely populated metropolitan areas. 

  • Practice size and type: The size of your employer’s practice will be a factor in how much you make as a dental assistant. Larger practices with many dental assistants may pay less than smaller, private practices. Specialty practices may also pay more per year than a traditional private dental office. 

  • Experience level: The longer you work as a dental assistant, the more you may earn. While this factor may not make as significant an impact on your annual salary as other factors like certification, many employers will compensate experienced dental assistants slightly more than those who are newer to the profession. 

  • Certifications: Dental certifications vary by region and are only required in eight provinces and territories. Being certified may enable you to perform more advanced tasks than dental assistants who do not have to go through a certification process, which could open doors to higher salaries.

  • Additional skills: If you have learned additional skills outside of the requirements of a typical dental assistant, or if you have earned specialized certifications, you may earn more per year. An example of additional skills could be anything from clerical office administration to radiology. 

Increase your earning potential. 

There are a few ways that you can increase your earning potential as a dental assistant. Expanding your skill set via certifications, honing your expertise by specializing in a certain area, taking on more responsibility at work, and gaining experience in your field are just some of the ways you may be able to increase your salary as a dental assistant.

Gain experience.

For many dental assistants, staying the course and honing their skills is the best way to earn more per year. Employers will likely view years of experience in the profession as confirmation of expertise and may, therefore, be willing to pay more. There’s not a set amount you’ll earn per year you work as a dental assistant, so the increased annual pay will likely be dependent on your employer. 

Consider specializing.

As a dental assistant, you can specialize in certain areas of dentistry, such as orthodontics or oral surgery. These positions require additional training above and beyond what’s required of a dental assistant program.  You can specialize in these fields of dentistry while enrolled in your dental assistant program by earning additional certifications with specific focuses. These positions may pay more per year.  On Coursera, you’ll also find courses that offer areas of specialty for dental assistants, like Implant Dentistry or The Oral Cavity: The Portal to Health and Disease

Ask for more responsibilities.

Some dental assistants may earn more per year if they take on additional tasks within a practice, which may also lead to a new job title that pays more. If you work for a smaller dental practice, simply asking for more responsibilities may be all it takes to gain your value as an employee. If taking on more responsibilities means additional training or certification, you can always ask your employer to help you pay for and enroll in a program. In many cases, your expertise is highly beneficial to the practice as it is to you.  

How to become a dental assistant

To become a dental assistant, you must complete a dental assistant program and get regional or provincial certification where applicable. You can then apply for dental assistant jobs within your area.

Education and training

You don’t need a degree to become a dental assistant; you only need to complete an eight-month to one-year dental assistant program. Programs are usually offered at local vocational or community colleges. All of the education and training you need to prepare for licensure and required certification should be taught in the program. Some coursework you may see as a part of a dental assistant program includes dental office administration, fundamentals of dentistry, and dental radiology. You can expect to learn skills like how to sterilize dental equipment, take dental X-rays, prepare trays for dental procedures, and educate patients on oral health topics. 

There are online programs with virtual clinics as well as in-person programs that offer a more hands-on approach to learning this profession. 


The type of licensure you need to work as a dental assistant varies by region. Each province or territory has its own regulating board and requirements to gain certification. The Canadian Dental Assistants Association can help you find specific information on the regulatory board for the region you wish to work in. 

National exams

Although licensure is not required in every territory of Canada, the National Dental Assisting Examining Board (NDAEB) exam is required for many of the provinces and territories that require certification.

The NDAEB exam consists of a written component and a clinical practical evaluation. The NDAEB is not a regulatory agency in itself but is endorsed by the regulatory agencies for dental assistants in Canada. 

To prepare for your exam, look for free practice exams and other resources online or via the National Dental Assisting Examining Board website. There are also print resources that can be purchased online or in bookstores. Once you’ve passed your exam, you’ll need to determine any other steps to licensure through the specific regulatory body where you plan to practice as a dental assistant.

Article sources


COPS. “Dental assistants (3411),” Accessed November 27, 2022. 

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