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Hook, Line, & Sinker

May 1, 2007
Looking to catch the right person? Let the compensation package reel in a keeper.

Looking to catch the right person? Let the compensation package reel in a keeper.

Dental assistants play a vital role in the development and maintenance of a thriving and successful practice. They play an important customer-facing role to communicate, educate and even entertain patients, including adults and children who visit the office. In addition, the dental assistant keeps things organized, ensures that scheduling is running as it should, and makes or breaks the reputation of your practice by his or her professional demeanor.

Face it. A good dental assistant is hard to find – and keep. Attracting and retaining top performing employees as dental assistants who are dedicated to the profession and to participating as high-performing staff members can be a challenge. There is also an increased demand for dental assistants resulting from the need for more dental services due to changing demographics.

Another contributing factor adding to the increased scarcity of dental assistants is the limited supply of new entrants to the field, which makes it increasingly harder to find adequate staff. This trend is expected to continue for at least several more decades. Another factor contributing to the scarcity is that entry-level dental assistants often earn less than entry-level assistant positions in other industries, making the dental assistant position a less compelling option.

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The dearth of potential candidates is also a result from changes that have developed in the labor market over the past years. Potential dental office staff members have more career opportunities open today than ever before – particularly women who make up the vast majority of dental assistants. In addition, competition when recruiting dental assistants was once limited to inside the dental profession alone. Now, recruiting for these positions requires vying with a myriad of businesses from every industry to gain the best employees.

The situation is too serious to overlook or take lightly. If adequate staff can’t be found and trained, the quality of both the visit and the care will be negatively impacted for patients. Everything from longer periods spent in the waiting room to slower processing of patients to inadequately trained staff will ultimately impact both the reputation and the bottom line of your practice.

Showing respect and appreciation for the value that the dental assistant brings starts with recognition of his or her skills with market-competitive compensation that compares favorably with similar positions. Benefits should also be examined for market competitiveness and made available to send the message to potential candidates that the position of dental assistant is a career – not just a stop along the way to something else. However, while health insurance benefits, paid vacation and training are all vital components of the compensation equation, competitive base pay and bonuses remain both the attracters and the clinchers for the deal.

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Dental offices are under siege to determine what the right pay is and what will attract and retain the best dental staff assistants. Determining the best pay rate can be a daunting endeavor, but the best approach starts with benchmarked data. In conjunction with PayScale (, a market leader in online compensation data and benefit information for employers and individuals, we’ve provided a comparison analysis of markets across the country to help you first determine what the going rate is for your region. Next, determine the level of experience that you are expecting, or would like, the dental assistant to bring. The data chart we’ve provided includes information pertaining to all experience levels. The final step is to look at the pay rates and ranges. This data provides insight into what the going average, medium or high percentile pay rate is per hour for dental assistants in your market.

Your decision making becomes more powerful by gathering knowledge about competitive compensation rates for your region and for the expertise level you want to hire. When high-performing employees are provided with market competitive compensation, quality benefits and opportunities for education and training that can result in increased responsibilities, not only will your employees excel but your practice will thrive as well.

Here are some tips to help quickly navigate through the salary information provided in this chart:

  • The values in the chart only reflect base pay figures and do not include bonuses.
  • Taking the national average as an example, let’s look at the median, also known as the 50th percentile. In this chart this means that 50 percent in that category will make more than $15 and 50 percent make less than $15.
  • Benchmarks for levels of expertise also provide guidelines on how to judge salary levels for each region.