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. View article »

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  • 0:04 Major Career Differences
  • 0:51 Dental Assistants
  • 2:35 Medical Assistants

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Video Transcript

Major Career Differences

Learn about the differences between dental and medical assistants and explore the job duties, education requirements, and job outlook for each. The biggest difference between a dental assistant and medical assistant is the field in which they work. While both are healthcare professionals, dental assistants focus on providing support to dentists, while medical assistants work under the supervision of physicians. Dental assistants perform various administrative duties and prepare equipment and treatment areas for dentists. Medical assistants usually specialize in administrative or clinical duties in hospitals and other healthcare facilities. They both interact with patients and can help provide them with basic care.

Dental Assistants

Dental assistants work in dental offices, preparing laboratories and surgical rooms for a dentist's work. Specific duties include disinfecting and organizing instruments, obtaining and updating patients' dental records, preparing materials for the dentist to examine, making casts of teeth for impressions, and cleaning appliances in the 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. These programs can result in a diploma, certificate, or associate's degree, although degrees in this particular area of study are less common. Dental assisting certificates and diplomas can typically be completed in a year's time. As of 2017, the Commission on Dental Accreditation had approved 261 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 an 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 2016 was $36,940.

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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. Common duties include recording patient history, helping with patient exams, preparing blood samples for lab tests, scheduling appointments, and measuring vital signs of patients.


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

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Medical assistants can look forward to a 23% increase in employment opportunities in the 2014-2024 decade, according to the BLS, which is much faster than average. Their median annual wage was reported to be $31,540 in May 2016.

Dental and medical assistants both require additional education and training to work with patients and perform various administrative and clinical tasks in their respective fields. Dental assistants assist dentists and patients needing oral care, while medical assistants help various kinds of physicians and help professionals with a wide variety of conditions in patients.

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