For dental assistants, earning Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification from the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) leads to higher pay, greater job satisfaction, and other personal and professional benefits, according to DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey.
Higher wages and more raises
According to survey results, dental assistants who hold DANB’s CDA certification reported earning just over $2 more per hour compared to all dental assistants, most of whom are not DANB certified. Dental assistants who hold CDA certification earned a median hourly wage of $22.09 compared to the median national rate of $19.80 per hour.*
Additionally, the survey showed that CDA certification is tied to income growth, as 61% of CDA certificants reported receiving a raise in their current position compared to 45% of non-certified assistants who received a raise.
“After earning DANB certification and state credentials, I was given more responsibilities and received a significant raise,” one CDA certificant said.
Overall, dental assistants reported high job satisfaction. Of those surveyed, 78% of dental assistants who hold CDA certification reported very high or high job satisfaction, as did 72% of dental assistants who are not certified. However, CDA certificants were much more likely to strongly agree that dental assisting is a career, not just a job, compared with those who are not certified (50% vs. 37%, respectively).
As one DANB CDA certificant said: “Dental assisting has been a very rewarding career for me, not only because of the duties I perform but also because of the engagement I have with patients.”
Additionally, CDA certificants tend to have high employer loyalty, perhaps because they are satisfied in their careers and in their workplace. While both CDA-certified and non-certified assistants reported feeling valued by their employer at similar levels (72% and 73%, respectively), CDA-certified assistants reported greater employer loyalty.
Dental assistants who held DANB’s CDA certification and had 6 or more years of dental assisting experience reported working for their current employer for 8.7 years on average, while those who were not certified and had the same amount of experience had been with their current employer for an average of 6 years.
Similarly, looking at those who were newer to the profession (fewer than 5 years’ dental assisting experience), CDA certificants had been with their current employer for 2.5 years on average, compared to the 1.8 years on average of those who were not DANB certified.
“I feel greatly appreciated by my boss and team,” one CDA certificant survey respondent said. “I wish all dental assistants could work in an office like mine.”
The survey results also identified a link between job satisfaction and pay: CDA certificants with very high job satisfaction reported the highest salaries, earning $4 more per hour than those certificants with very low job satisfaction.
“In my career, I’ve come to realize how valuable my experience and skillset is,” one CDA certificant said. “My employer recognizes my contributions and validates my worth.”
Higher job satisfaction may be connected with higher wages because dental assistants who make greater contributions to the dental practice benefit in two ways: they feel more rewarded in their jobs and are compensated at a higher rate.
“Earning CDA certification helped me become an EFDA in my state, and it led to a higher salary for me as well,” said one CDA certificant.
More personal and professional benefits
A majority (60%) of dental assistants who hold DANB CDA certification stated that earning certification was a personal goal. They pointed out the many personal benefits they felt from earning CDA certification, including pride, increased knowledge, standing out when applying for jobs, higher pay and greater confidence.
As one CDA certificant shared: “I earned DANB certification because I knew I would be moving to a new state, and I wanted the certification to show future employers that I was a dedicated professional.”
These personal rewards could be why DANB certificants are committed to holding on to their certification and recommend it to others. In fact, 99% of CDA certificants said they plan to renew their certification, and 91% would encourage others to earn DANB certification.
Overall, CDA certificants were more likely than non-certified assistants to receive professional benefits, such as paid vacation, paid holidays, retirement plans, health insurance, paid sick leave and bonuses.
“Earning DANB certification is a great accomplishment,” one certificant said. “I always encourage others to earn credentials whenever possible.”
*Compared to figures from the 2020 Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Figures are based on median hourly wages of dental assistants working full time (35+ hours per week).
Results are based on an 11% total response rate from a stratified random sample of more than 6,000 CDA certificants and more than 6,000 non-certified dental assistants who passed DANB’s RHS exam. The consistency of data from previous DANB salary surveys conducted every two years since 2001 supports the validity of the results and the conclusion that these results are representative of the population.