Discover the Differences in Duties, Responsibilities, Certifications, Salary, and Job Outlook
Medical Assistants (MAs) and Dental Assistants (DAs) in a lot of ways are very similar occupations, just in different fields. Dental Assistants are practically Medical Assistants, but within the specialized healthcare field of dentistry. Both work directly with patients and under the supervision of a dentist, doctor, or nurse. In addition, both also perform administrative duties.
Earning your MA diploma will make you more qualified for employment as a Dental Assistant, and some employers may offer on-the-job training to compete your qualifications. However, if you envision a career in dentistry, a diploma in Dental Assistant would provide more value to your employer and your career. In addition, if you’re considering other jobs in dentistry—for example, dental hygienist or dentist—the DA diploma may apply to future educational programs.
If you’re thinking about starting a career in healthcare, now’s the time to do it. The need for qualified healthcare workers has never been greater, and the number of available employment opportunities is also very high. However, with so many career options available, you may be uncertain which role is best for you—given your goals, preferences, lifestyle, and strengths and weaknesses.
This article provides a head-to-head comparison of a Medical Assistant and a Dental Assistant. You will discover how these healthcare professionals have their own unique job responsibilities, educational requirements, job outlook, and earning potential.
If you’re interested in becoming a Medical Assistant or Dental Assistant, we hope the information provided here will help you understand your options and find the most rewarding and satisfying future in healthcare.
Click here to read our comprehensive guide on how to become a Medical Assistant.
Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Definition
What is a Medical Assistant?
Medical Assistants (MAs) perform a variety of tasks essential to patient care and medical office administration. By taking on these responsibilities, MAs enable doctors and nurses to dedicate more of their time to examining and treating patients. Most medical assistants work in physician offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers, and offices of other medical specialists, such as chiropractors.
What is a Dental Assistant?
Just like a Medical Assistant who performs a variety of clinical and administrative tasks for a general practice, Dental Assistants support dentists, dental hygienists, and patients in a dental practice.
Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Job Description
What Does a Medical Assistant Do?
Medical Assistants are essential members of the healthcare team. MAs perform office duties such as maintaining patient records, bookkeeping, billing, and insurance processing. They also perform clinical tasks such as preparing patients for procedures, performing lab tests, administering medications, and other duties under the supervision of a doctor or nurse. MAs handle many of the more routine tasks, so that doctors and nurses have more time to perform essential examinations and procedures.
Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a Medical Assistant include:
- Recording patient history and personal information
- Measuring patient’s vital signs, such as blood pressure and temperature
- Helping physicians with patient examinations
- Giving patients injections or medications as directed by physician or nurse
- Explaining treatment procedures to patients
- Answering telephones and scheduling patient appointments
- Filling out insurance forms and coding patient medical information
- Updating and filing patient medical records
- Handling correspondence, billing, and bookkeeping
What Does a Dental Assistant Do?
Dental Assistants perform limited clinical duties under the direction of a dentist. This may include equipment preparation and sterilization, preparing patients for treatment, assisting the dentist during treatment, and providing patients with instructions for dental healthcare procedures. DAs may also perform administrative duties such as scheduling appointments, maintaining medical records, billing, and coding information for insurance purposes.
Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of a Dental Assistant include:
- 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 dentist during procedures
- Keeping patient’s mouth dry and clear with suction hoses and other equipment
- Making dental impressions
- Instructing patients in proper oral hygiene
- Taking dental X-rays and completing lab tasks
- Installing fixed prosthodontics
- Maintaining inventory for dental practices
- Scheduling patient appointments
- Working with patients on billing and payment
Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Education
Educational Requirements for Medical Assistants
Earning a diploma or associate’s degree in medical assisting is typically required in order to gain employment as an MA. Medical Assisting programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools, technical schools, and universities. Diploma programs take about 9 to 12 months to complete, while associate’s degree programs usually take about two years to complete. After graduation, you may want to add another month or two to study for, schedule, and take a certification exam.
Although a state license or certification is not required to become a Medical Assistant, most of today’s employers strongly prefer MAs with at least one certification. MAs who perform specific duties (such as phlebotomy or x-rays) or who work in specialized fields (such as podiatry or ophthalmology) may be required to have specific training and certification in their specialty. In 2012, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services also ruled that only credentialed MAs are allowed to enter the laboratory, radiology, and medical orders into their computerized system.
Click here to read our guide on the best Medical Assistant certifications for your healthcare career.
Educational Requirements for Dental Assistants
Most Dental Assistants enter the profession with a diploma or certificate from a postsecondary dental assistant program. These programs are offered at community colleges, vocational schools, and technical schools and usually take less than one year to complete. Accredited programs often include classroom, laboratory work, and supervised practical experience. Students learn about teeth, gums, jaws, and other areas that dentists work on. Some Dental Assistants who do not have formal education in dental assisting may learn their duties through on-the-job training.
Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Salary
How Much Do Medical Assistants Make?
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary* earned by Medical Assistants in 2020 was around $37,000 or about $18 per hour. MAs who earned salaries in the top 10 percent made more than $50,000 per year.
Highest Paying States for Medical Assistants
According to the BLS, these are the states where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Medical Assistants:
|State||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|District of Columbia||$21.80||$45,340|
Highest Paying Cities for Medical Assistants
According to the BLS, these are the cities where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Medical Assistants:
|City||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|San Francisco, CA||$25.94||$53,960|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$25.25||$52,520|
|San Jose, CA||$23.57||$49,020|
|Santa Cruz, CA||$21.63||$44,980|
How Much Do Dental Assistants Make?
According to the BLS, the median annual wage for Dental Assistants in 2020 was around $41,000 or about $20 per hour. Dental Assistants who earned salaries in the top 10 percent made more than $58,000 per year.
Highest Paying States for Dental Assistants
According to the BLS, these are the states where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Dental Assistants:
|State||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
Highest Paying Cities for Dental Assistants
According to the BLS, these are the cities where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Dental Assistants:
|City||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$28.16||$58,570|
|San Jose, CA||$26.08||$54,250|
|San Francisco, CA||$25.72||$53,510|
|San Luis Obispo, CA||$25.52||$53,080|
|Santa Maria, CA||$25.22||$52,460|
Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant: Job Outlook
Medical Assistant Job Outlook
According to the BLS, the overall employment of Medical Assistants is projected to grow 18 percent through 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations (8%).
As the average age of our population continues to grow older, so will the demand for preventive medical services, which physicians often provide. In addition, healthcare facilities will hire more Medical Assistants to perform routine administrative and clinical duties, allowing the physicians and nurses to see more patients.
Dental Assistant Job Outlook
According to the BLS, the overall employment for Dental Assistants is projected to be strong at 11 percent through 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations (8%).
Some of the projected employment growth is due to recovery from the Covid-19 recession that began in 2020. In addition, ongoing research showing that oral health is important to general health will continue to increase demand for preventive dental care.
Head-to-Head Comparison: Medical Assistant vs. Dental Assistant
|Comparison||Dental Assistant||Medical Assistant|
|Job Description||Provides administrative services, basic patient care, and clinical support to dentists||Provides administrative services, basic patient care, and clinical support to doctors and nurses|
|Average Annual Wage||$41,000 in 2020||$37,000 in 2020|
|Employment Growth||11% thru 2030||18% thru 2030|
|Education (Recommended)||9–12 months training||9–12 months training|
Why Medical Assisting is a Great Career Alternative for Dental Assistants?
Medical Assistants have an ideal background to become Dental Assistants. The training is very similar, though the DA training is more specifically applied to dentistry rather than general medical practice. Medical Assistants also have experience working directly with patients in a clinical setting and understand the importance of people skills, sanitary conditions, accuracy, and attention to detail.
Why Choose Eagle Gate College for Your Medical Assistant Training?
Founded in 1979, Eagle Gate College has provided thousands of graduates with the knowledge and skills they need to pursue a rewarding career in nursing and healthcare. With a curriculum continually updated to meet the needs of healthcare, well equipped labs, and hands-on training from experienced healthcare professionals, we prepare graduates to make a positive impact starting with their first day on the job. Our robust Medical Assisting program combines virtual instruction, hands-on lab exercises, and supervised externship and can be completed in as little as 9 months. In conjunction with Provo College, Eagle Gate College offers a premier healthcare education at five campus locations in Utah and Idaho.