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Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant

Learn the Differences in Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Salary, and Job Outlook

Smiling female student in a classroom

Medical Assisting can provide you with a great entry point into the healthcare industry. Medical Assistants (MAs) are healthcare professionals who support physicians, physicians’ assistants, and other healthcare professionals in a variety of clinical settings. They are integral members of almost every medical team.

In the field of oral healthcare, Dental Assistants (DAs) also fill a vital role. They provide dentists with a support system and complete many tasks, including patient care, recordkeeping, and appointment scheduling.

If you’re interested in becoming a Medical Assistant or Dental Assistant but need more information about either career, continue reading to learn about the duties, requirements, and salaries of these up-and-coming professions.

Click here to read our comprehensive guides on how to become a Medical Assistant or how to become a Dental Assistant.

Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Definition

What is a Medical Assistant?

Medical Assistants are multi-competent healthcare professionals involved in the administrative and clinical tasks that keep the offices, clinics, and laboratories of physicians running smoothly. Depending on where they work, some Medical Assistants may telephone prescriptions to a pharmacy, collect and prepare laboratory specimens, sterilize medical instruments, and prep patients for X-rays. They may even take electrocardiograms and remove sutures or change dressings.

What is a Dental Assistant?

Dental Assistants are valuable members of the healthcare team. They increase the dentist’s efficiency in the delivery of first-rate care and perform a variety of tasks.

Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Job Description

What Does a Medical Assistant Do?

Medical Assistants assist physicians in both the office and the exam room. Their wide range of duties varies depending on the location, specialty, and size of the practice.

What Does a Dental Assistant Do?

The duties of a Dental Assistant can range from assisting patients to taking X-rays, record keeping, and scheduling appointments. Some Dental Assistants also take and process dental X-Rays, complete lab tasks under the direction of a dentist, install fixed prosthodontics, maintain inventory for dental practices, schedule patient appointments, and work with patients on billing and payment.

Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Duties

Medical Assistant Responsibilities

So, what does a Medical Assistant do? Depending on their location, they may complete tasks like the following:

  • Answering telephones
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Greeting patients
  • Updating and file patient charts
  • Ordering supplies
  • Arranging for hospital admission and laboratory services
  • Handling billing, collections, and bookkeeping
  • Taking medical histories
  • Recording vital signs
  • Preparing patients for exams and assisting the physician during the exam

Dental Assistant Responsibilities

Some of a Dental Assistant’s typical duties include the following:

  • Ensuring that patients are comfortable in the dental chair
  • Preparing patients and the work area for treatments and procedures
  • Assisting with oral surgeries
  • Sterilizing dental instruments
  • Handing instruments to the dentist during procedures
  • Evacuating oral cavities and keeping the patient’s mouth dry by using suction hoses and other equipment
  • Making dental impressions
  • Instructing patients in proper oral hygiene

Doctor and Medical Assistant with a patient

Where Do Medical Assistants Work?

Medical Assistants work in a variety of healthcare environments. These include but are not limited to physician offices, private healthcare facilities, hospitals, hospital clinics, laboratories, health industry providers, independent clinics, and industrial firms requiring healthcare personnel.

Where Do Dental Assistants Work?

Dental Assistants work primarily in dentists’ and doctors’ offices. However, some DAs can also find employment in government facilities.

Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant

Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants

Most Medical Assistants obtain a postsecondary education with a certificate of completion. However, others may enter the field with a high school diploma and learn through on-the-job training. The required education for becoming a Medical Assistant can also vary state by state.

Educational Requirements for Dental Assistants

There are several paths you can take to become a Dental Assistant. While some states require DAs to graduate from an accredited program and pass an exam, others do not require any formal education and learn through on-the-job training.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Medical Assistant?

Depending on the path you choose, it could take a year or less to enter the field of Medical Assisting, with most programs allowing you to graduate in under a year. For instance, you can complete the Medical Assisting program at Unitek College in as little as 9 months.

The curriculum of the MA program at Unitek College emphasizes both administrative and clinical skills. It includes extensive instruction in medical terminology, medical office procedures, medical and clinical procedures, basic anatomy and physiology, and special duties typical in the field.

As you research each school, be sure to look at the admissions requirements, coursework curriculum, cost, and length of their Medical Assistant programs.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Dental Assistant?

Like Medical Assisting, you can usually complete a Dental Assistant diploma program in a year or less. At Unitek College, you can complete our Dental Assistant program in as little as 10 months.

Our dynamic curriculum combines virtual instruction with simulation training and a supervised externship. The courses you’ll take cover critical aspects of the profession, including sterilization techniques, medical emergencies, dental X-rays, impressions, and dental instruments.

Smiling dental team in the office

Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Salary

How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wage for a Medical Assistant is about $17.00, with an annual average salary of about $36,000. Medical Assistants that earn salaries in the top 10 percent can make more than $51,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, these industries are where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Medical Assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Outpatient Care Centers $20.35 $42,330
General Hospitals $18.37 $38,200
Physicians’ Offices $17.59 $36,580
Other Health Practitioners $15.97 $33,210
Retirement Communities & Assisted Living Facilities $14.84 $30,870

Highest Paying States for Medical Assistants

According to the BLS, Medical Assistants earn the highest average wages in these states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Alaska $22.41 $46,610
Washington $21.97 $45,700
Washington D.C. $21.80 $45,340
Massachusetts $20.72 $43,090
Minnesota $20.72 $43,090

Highest Paying Cities for Medical Assistants

The BLS has reported that Medical Assistants earn the highest annual wages in the following cities:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Francisco, CA $25.94 $53,960
Vallejo, CA $25.80 $53,660
Santa Rosa, CA $25.25 $52,520
Seattle, WA $23.59 $49,070
San Jose, CA $23.57 $49,020
Sacramento, CA $23.37 $48,600
Olympia, WA $22.85 $47,530
Anchorage, AK $22.02 $45,790
Santa Cruz, CA $21.63 $44,980
Longview, WA $21.53 $44,780

How Much Do Dental Assistants Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average hourly wage for a Dental Assistant is about $20, with an annual average salary of about $41,000. Dental Assistants that earn salaries in the top 10 percent can make more than $58,000 per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Dental Assistants

According to the BLS, these industries are where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Dental Assistants:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Nursing Care Facilities $22.29 $46,370
Ambulatory Health Care Services $22.16 $46,090
General Hospitals $21.93 $45,620
Dental Offices $20.34 $42,300
Outpatient Care Centers $20.17 $41,940

Highest Paying States for Dental Assistants

As stated by the BLS, Dental Assistants earn the highest average wages in these states:

State Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Minnesota $25.80 $53,670
Massachusetts $24.88 $51,750
Alaska $24.63 $51,230
New Hampshire $24.43 $50,820
Oregon $23.23 $48,320

Highest Paying Cities for Dental Assistants

The BLS has reported that Dental Assistants earn the highest annual wages in the following cities:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Santa Rosa, CA $28.16 $58,570
Minneapolis, MN $27.04 $56,240
Vallejo, CA $26.23 $54,550
San Jose, CA $26.08 $54,250
Bismarck, ND $25.77 $53,600
San Francisco, CA $25.72 $53,510
Boston, MA $25.60 $53,250
San Luis Obispo, CA $25.52 $53,080
Santa Maria, CA $25.22 $52,460
Rochester, MN $25.10 $52,210

Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Job Outlook

Medical Assistant Job Outlook

Not only is there expected growth in the field of Medical Assisting, but the BLS has predicted a 19% increase by 2029—this rate is much faster than the average for all occupations (4%). Thus, while Medical Assistants are projected to have good job prospects, those who earn certification and are familiar with electronic health records (EHRs) may entertain even better job prospects.

Dental Assistant Job Outlook

The BLS reports that the overall employment of Dental Assistants is expected to grow 7% by 2029, which is also faster than the average for all occupations (4%). In addition, research has linked good oral health to general health. This will likely increase the demand for preventive dental services.

Why Is Dental Assisting a Great Alternative Career Path for Medical Assistants?

With short training programs and exposure to another realm of healthcare, becoming a Dental Assistant could be an excellent choice for Medical Assistants. Both of these roles act as the “hands” of their supervisor, whether that be a dentist or a doctor.

Medical students walking in a hallway

Start by Earning Your Medical Assistant Diploma

With a Medical Assistant diploma, you can start a path toward various job opportunities. In some cases, your education and training will prepare you for a smooth transition into these roles. Your Medical Assisting skills can serve as an excellent foundation for the specialized training and certification they require for other jobs.

If you’re ready to take the next step, start by earning your Medical Assistant diploma in as little as 9 months at Unitek College.

Click here to learn more about our Medical Assistant program.