Dental Assistant vs. Medical Assistant: Which Career is Right for You?

If you’re trying to decide on a career as a dental assistant or medical assistant, you might notice that the two roles are very similar. Both dental assistants and medical assistants work under the supervision of licensed doctors: medical physicians and dentists. They both offer supportive services in the office like paperwork filing and patient record management. Also, both dental and medical assistants help their supervising doctors or dentists in the exam room, checking patients’ vitals and educating them on healthcare and dental care.

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Despite their similarities, there are a few differences between these two career paths. Medical assistants can often be broken down into two categories, clinical or administrative, while dental assistants generally help with everything in the office. While medical assistants aren’t required to hold certification, dental assistants generally require some technical training to obtain a job.

Educational Programs for Medical Assistants and Dental Assistants

Both dental assisting and medical assisting certificates or diplomas require about 9 to 12 months of study. However, dental assistants are more often required to hold certification, while it’s easier for medical assistants to find work without training. In both fields, certification helps job candidates find employment.

Both types of assistants are also able to earn an associate’s degree after 18 to 24 months of training, but this is not required to find an entry-level job. An associate’s degree will, however, give candidates an edge on the career field.

Depending on the type of work a medical assistant wishes to pursue, their training may be composed of administrative and clinical courses. Dental assisting students often focus on a more clinical education, but both fields require coursework in administrative and practical duties. Dental assisting students can expect to learn about teeth, jaws, oral care and other dental-related skills, while medical assistants focus on anatomy, physiology and medical terminology.

Difference in Pay Between Dental Assistants and Medial Assistants

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), dental assistants made a slightly higher median income than medical assistants in 2017. That year, dental assistants made a median salary of $37,630 while medical assistants made a median of $32,480.

Dental assistants are also expected to experience a faster employment growth rate in the next 10 years than medical assistants. While both fields are expected to grow faster than average, dental assistants have a 29 percent predicted growth rate vs. medical assistants, who have a 19 percent predicted rate.

Which Career Path Is for You?

If you’re interested in entering either the medical assisting or dental assisting fields, take a look at your strengths and interests. To succeed in either of these fields, you should be an excellent communicator, detail-oriented and a team worker. However, some people may be better-suited to assist in a medical office than a dental office because of the differences between the two roles.

If you’re a hands-on person who wants to help assist with office exams, more opportunities for this type of work will come in a dental assistant position. Otherwise, those more interested in the administrative side of things should check out a career in medical assisting. Both paths will give you opportunities to interact with patients and assist in health fields.