Dental Assistant Vs. Medical Assistant: Education & Career Info

Dental assistants and medical assistants both work under licensed doctors, but they do so in different manners. Compare and contrast the education and career requirements of these healthcare professionals.

Major Differences

The biggest difference between a dental and medical assistant is the field in which they work. While both are healthcare professionals, dental assistants focus on the work of dentists, while medical assistants work under the supervision of physicians. These professions share some education requirements, though.

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants work in dental offices, preparing laboratories and surgical rooms for a dentist's work. Specific duties include disinfecting instruments and equipment and laying them out for the dentist's use, obtaining and updating patients' dental records and preparing other materials, like x-rays, for the dentist to examine. Dental assistants may also make casts of teeth for impressions and clean appliances in a dental office.


Some states have no formal educational training requirements for dental assistants. Dental assistants may be hired with no prior experience to work entry-level assisting jobs at community health centers and hospitals, where they receive on-the-job training. However, some states do require that dental assistants have a postsecondary education.

As of 2016, the Commission on Dental Accreditation had approved 264 dental assisting training programs. The Dental Assisting National Board administers the licensing exam for dental assistants, which is something 39 states recognize or require.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 18% job increase for dental assistants between 2014 and 2024, which is faster than the national average. The reported median annual wage for dental assistants in May 2014 was $35,390.

Medical Assistants

Medical assistants are often divided into types based on the setting in which they work. For instance, medical assistants may work as administrative medical assistants or clinical medical assistants. Both types of assistants work under all types of physicians, including podiatrists, chiropractors and general practitioners.


Most medical assistants are trained on the job, but many community and vocational schools offer educational opportunities for aspiring medical assistants. These programs lead to certificates, diplomas and associate's degrees. Certificates and diplomas can take less than a year to complete, while an associate's degree generally takes two years. Programs usually include such courses as anatomy, medical terminology and billing procedures.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Medical assistants can look forward to an increase in employment opportunities of 23% in the 2014-2024 decade, according to the BLS, which is much faster than average. Their median annual wage was reported to be $29,960 in May 2014.

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