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5 truths about being a dental assistant

Sept. 18, 2019
It's important for dental assistants to realize how valuable they are to their practices. Here are five truths that no assistant should ever forget!

In a highly competitive marketplace, dental practices are doing what it takes to stay relevant. Their investments go beyond purchasing the latest technologies and equipment; they also invest heavily in their own dental team members. Some dentists are already seeing the tremendous return on investment that a well-trained dental assistant can bring to the practice.

With an estimated 340,000 dental assistants in the United States,1 dental assisting is among the fastest growing occupations in the country.2 In fact, dental assistants account for 46% of the dental workforce, making them the largest segment ahead of dental hygienists and dentists.3 They perform many challenging and essential roles throughout the day, making them very important to not only dentists’ offices, but also to a healthy America.

That’s why the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) and the DALE Foundation are setting the record straight about the invaluable role of dental assistants. The organizations recently surveyed nearly 3,000 dentists, dental hygienists, dental office managers, and dental assistants to capture the ways in which dental assistants bring value to the dental office.

Dental assistants contribute to productivity.

Dentists and dental office managers overwhelmingly agree that dental assistants contribute to the productivity of the dental practice. In fact, 99% of dentists and dental office managers agree or strongly agree that an effective dental assistant contributes to practice productivity, with another 98% agreeing that assistants help make all team members more effective.

Dental assistants positively impact patient care.

Dentists and dental office managers overwhelmingly agree that dental assistants contribute to quality patient care in many ways, such as by positively impacting patient retention (97%) and treatment plan acceptance (91%). In addition, providing pre- and post-treatment education is one of the top three duties that dentists report delegating to dental assistants.

Dental assistants need, and appreciate, ongoing education.

Dental assistants not only need to know all about dental instruments and procedures, but also the ins and outs of the office, and federal and state laws, standards, and guidelines. DANB certificants are required to earn continuing education credits each year. Overall, 89% of dentists and dental office managers said that CE is critical to maintaining the dental assistants’ skills, and 90% said that dental assistants who complete CE are more likely to contribute to the profitability of the practice. Dental assistants said earning CE helps them expand their skills, stay interested in their jobs, and feel like valued members of the practice.

Dental assistants have a variety of responsibilities

Dental assistants have a wide range of responsibilities, which may vary greatly from state to state. That said, according to DALE Foundation research, the duties most frequently delegated to dental assistants are performing sterilization and disinfection procedures, providing pre- and post-treatment education to patients, and, after meeting state-specific requirements, exposing dental radiographic images. Beyond these and approximately 100 other duties that may be delegated to dental assistants, they provide support to patients before, during, and after their procedures, as well as assist the entire dental team to keep the practice running smoothly. Given their broad role, it’s no wonder being a team player was ranked as one of the top five most important qualities for dental assistants to possess.

Dental assistants are so much more than “just assistants.”

Dental assistants are rarely limited to just one or two duties around the office and instead perform many roles throughout the day. Their ability to multitask builds a variety of effective skills that are indispensable to dental practices. There is an overwhelming agreement among dental staff members that dental assistants contribute to office productivity, boost the bottom line, help keep patients and providers safe, and have significant purchasing power for their practices.

For more information about the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB), visit danb.org. For more information about The DALE Foundation, visit dalefoundation.org.


1 Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2018 National Occupational Employment and Wage EstimateUnited States. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm#00-0000.
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Dental Assistants. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-assistants.htm.
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook, Healthcare Occupations. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/home.htm.

Ava Jacobs is an Associate Consultant at APCO Worldwide in Chicago, writing on behalf of DANB and The DALE Foundation.

About the Author

Ava Jacobs

Ava Jacobs is an Associate Consultant at APCO Worldwide in Chicago.