Kaiāwhina Mahi Niho
Alternative titles for this job
Dental assistants help dentists with patient care and running dental practices.
New dental assistants usually earn
$44K-$46K per year
Experienced dental assistants usually earn
$46K-$61K per year
Source: Auckland DHB, PSA, APEX and Waitemata DHB, 2020.
Pay for dental assistants varies depending on experience.
- New dental assistants usually earn between minimum wage and $46,000 a year.
- Dental assistants with one to three years' experience usually earn between $46,000 and $55,000.
- Senior (charge) dental assistants can earn between $55,000 and $61,000.
Sources: Auckland District Health Board, PSA, 'Dental Assistants' Collective Agreement 2017-2020', 2020; and APEX and Waitemata District Health Board, 'Dental Therapists and Dental Assistants Collective Agreement, 9 December 2017-8 December 2020', 2020.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Dental assistants may do some or all of the following:
- greet and prepare patients for treatment
- mix materials for fillings
- clean and prepare instruments
- pass instruments and materials to the dentist
- develop x-rays
- make moulds of patients' teeth
- complete infection prevention and control procedures
- follow up with patients where required
- perform reception and clerical duties
- order dental and office supplies.
Skills and knowledge
Dental assistants need to have knowledge of:
- basic dentistry and hygiene
- general dental practices
- dental materials and vocabulary
- how to use and care for dental equipment, including sterilisation procedures
- dental surgery procedures, including the use of sedatives and anaesthetics.
- work regular business hours and may be required to work late nights and weekends
- work in dental surgeries, hospitals, private dental practices and community health centres.
What's the job really like?
How did you become a dental assistant?
"I left school because it wasn’t for me, and dad told me to get a job. I found an ad in the newspaper for a dental assistant, with no background experience required. I applied and got the job.
"It’s a fantastic job to get into, and when you’re passionate about your work it changes your life really."
What do you enjoy most about your job?
"It’s such a different job every day. Even if you have the same kind of appointments scheduled, you’re always dealing with different people.
"In my first few weeks on the job, a patient came in who had fallen over and broken off most of their front tooth. We gave them a brand new tooth. They were so happy. It was just the best feeling."
What the most challenging part of your job?
"We’re an emergency dentist, which means we get a lot of people coming in with toothaches and broken teeth. Before you see the patient you often have no idea what treatment they’ll need.
"If they’ve come in with a toothache, it could just be that they have sensitive teeth and need some advice. Or it could be an infected wisdom tooth that requires surgery, which means we'll run late for all our other appointments.
"The work can be challenging, but it’s also very rewarding."
There are no specific entry requirements to become a dental assistant, as you gain skills on the job.
However, many employers prefer you to have completed the New Zealand Dental Association Certificate in Dental Assisting, or employ you as a trainee while you complete the certificate.
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a dental assistant. However, health education, biology, chemistry, physics and mathematics to at least NCEA Level 2 are useful.
Additional requirements for specialist roles:
Dental assistants may progress to become orthodontic auxiliaries, and assist orthodontists with patient care. To become an orthodontic auxiliary you need to complete approved training and meet other requirements set out by the Dental Council of New Zealand. An Annual Practising Certificate and registration with the Dental Council of New Zealand is also required.
Dental assistants need to be:
- friendly, polite and caring
- good at listening
- able to communicate effectively
- quick and efficient
- able to work well under pressure
- able to remain calm in emergencies
- organised and able to follow instructions.
Useful experience for dental assistants includes reception and hospital work.
Dental assistants need to be reasonably fit and healthy.
Orthodontic auxiliaries must be registered with the Dental Council of New Zealand.
Find out more about training
- Dental Council of New Zealand
- (04) 499 4820 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.dentalcouncil.org.nz
- New Zealand Dental Association
- (09) 579 8001 - email@example.com - www.nzda.org.nz
What are the chances of getting a job?
Strong demand for dental assistants
Demand for new dental assistants a good due to high turnover. Vacancies occur because dental assistants may progress into other dental roles with further training.
However, many dental assistants work part time, which means it can be hard to find full-time work, especially if you are new to the role.
According to the Census, 3,240 dental assistants worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Chances of finding work better in the regions
Chances of finding work as a dental assistant are better outside the main centres as competition for roles is higher in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. There is also high competition for hospital dentistry roles.
Types of employers varied
Dental assistants work for:
- dental therapists
- oral health therapists
- school and community dental services
- hospital dental units
- the Defence Force.
- APEX, Waitemata DHB, 'Dental Therapists and Dental Assistants Collective Agreement, 9 December 2017-8 December 2020', accessed 2020, (www.apex.org.nz).
- Auckland DHB, PSA, 'Dental Assistants' Collective Agreement 2017-2020', accessed 2020, (www.careers.adhb.org.nz).
- McKillen, M, events and education co-ordinator, New Zealand Dental Association, careers.govt.nz interview, September 2020.
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
With further training, dental assistants may progress to become:
- orthodontic auxiliaries
- oral health therapists
- dental technicians.
Last updated 18 October 2022