Finding Qualified Dental Assistants Can Be A Full Time Job

Nov. 16, 2001
AGD survey shows 61 percent of members have openings.

Whether a city dentist looking for a highly qualified team member, or a rural dentist in search of someone to train, general practitioners throughout the country are having a hard time finding and keeping qualified dental assistants, according to an article in the October 2001 issue of AGD Impact, the monthly news magazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD). "There's little data, but if you go by the amount of discussion time it takes up in the hallways of dental meetings, you know it is a problem," said John T. Sherwin, DDS, FAGD, member, AGD Council on Dental Care.

The 2000 AGD Membership Survey shows that 61 percent of AGD members had at least one opening for an assistant during the year, and it took an average of six weeks to hire someone new. Forty-six percent of members answering the survey had an opening for a hygienist. Those positions took eight weeks to fill, on average. Forty percent noted a receptionist vacancy, and 12 percent had an opening for an office manager. Those positions each took about five weeks to fill.

Most states do not require dental assistants to be registered or licensed, so it is difficult to track the number of assistants in the United States. And while training programs exist, most dentists hire and train their assistants in-office.

According to the ADA Survey of Allied Dental Education, there are 248 accredited dental assisting programs. These programs receive about 11,000 applications and accept about 8,000 students into the programs each year. About 4,700 graduate. These numbers have remained consistent over the past five years.

This dropout rate often is attributed to the fact that assistants do not need any formal education to get a job. There are no state-mandated credentials for assistants, and few states require licensure even for expanded duties. Many assistants stay in school long enough to secure a job, then quit, according to Cynthia K. Bradley, president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) and dental assisting program director of Orlando Technical College in Florida. "As it stands now, there's no reason to go to school," she said.

Dental assistant leaders and educators say the field needs standards. The ADAA's long-term goal is credentialing for dental assistants. According to Ms. Bradley, licensure would instill assistants with the professional pride that would ensure loyalty to a career that, presently, most assistants see as a job. "It would set educational and proficiency standards that assistants would have to meet and dentists would have to expect," she said.

The AGD does not support licensing for dental assistants, and dentists say that licensing would drive potential assistants away from the field rather than draw more people.

For more information CONTACT: Susan Urbanczyk, public information administrator, at 312/440-4308 or [email protected] or Molly Eaton, public information assistant, at 312/440-4341 or [email protected].