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Dental Assistant

Kaiāwhina Mahi Niho

Alternative titles for this job

Dental assistants help dentists with patient care and running dental practices.


New dental assistants usually earn

$41K-$46K per year

Experienced dental assistants usually earn

$46K-$61K per year

Source: Auckland DHB, PSA, APEX and Waitemata DHB, 2020.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a dental assistant are good due to high turnover.


Pay for dental assistants varies depending on experience.

  • New dental assistants usually earn between $41,000 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 as required
  • develop x-rays
  • make moulds of patients' teeth
  • complete infection prevention and control processes and procedures
  • follow up with patients where required
  • perform reception and clerical duties such as ordering dental and office supplies.

Skills and knowledge

Dental assistants need to have knowledge of:

  • basic dentistry and hygiene
  • dental practices, so they can anticipate the needs of the dentist
  • 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.

Working conditions

Dental assistants:

  • work regular business hours and may be required to work late nights and weekends
  • work in clean, well-lit surroundings in dental surgeries, hospitals, private dental practices and community health centres.

Entry requirements

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 may take you on 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. 

Secondary education

There are no specific secondary education requirements to become a dental assistant. However, health, biology, chemistry, physics and English 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.

Personal requirements

Dental assistants need to be:

  • friendly, polite and caring
  • good at listening to others
  • good with people and 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
  • able to perform basic computer tasks.

Useful experience

Useful experience for dental assistants includes:

  • hospital work
  • reception work
  • any other work involving contact with people.

Physical requirements

Dental assistants need to be reasonably fit and healthy, with good posture.


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 - inquiries@dentalcouncil.org.nz - www.dentalcouncil.org.nz
New Zealand Dental Association
(09) 579 8001 - www.nzda.org.nz
New Zealand Dental and Oral Health Therapists Association
(04)473 9547 - contact@nzoral.org.nz - www.nzoral.org.nz
Check out related courses

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 roles, such as dental hygienist or dental technician, 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:

  • dentists
  • dental therapists
  • dental hygienists
  • 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

Dental assistants can complete further training and become orthodontic auxiliaries. Some dental assistants go on to become receptionists at dental practices or practice managers. A small number get jobs selling products for dental companies.

Orthodontic Auxiliary
Orthodontic auxiliaries assist orthodontists and help diagnose and correct bad bite, crooked teeth and poor jaw growth in children and young people using braces and other techniques.
A dental assistant stretches the mouth of a patient using a tool so that a dentist can get inside the patient's mouth.

Dental assistants support dentists to care for people's teeth

Last updated 26 September 2020