Another new year is on the horizon, and as we head into 2024, the dental assisting landscape continues to evolve. While some challenges have persisted over the last several years, they’ve also paved some new opportunities for dental assistants. Here are some of the trends we saw in 2023 to keep an eye on in the new year.
Staff shortages continue
Dental practices have faced staffing shortages since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and those challenges continued into 2023. Dental assistants have taken on more duties in the office, which has in some cases helped them step into new roles such as lead dental assistant or infection control coordinator. But it has also led to increased burnout in other instances.
As of November 2023, 36% of private practices said they were actively recruiting dental assistants, according to a survey by the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute. That’s up from 33% reported in HPI’s survey at the beginning of the year. And nearly 90% of practices have found it “extremely” or “moderately” challenging to fill open dental assisting roles.
As a result of staff shortages, dentists are taking on a higher workload, according to an October 2023 survey by HPI. Nearly half of dentists reported performing more duties that are typically managed by hygienists, assistants, and practice administrators or office managers.
More cross-training opportunities
Dentists aren’t necessarily bearing the full brunt of staff shortages, however. In some cases, other members of the dental staff are taking on expanded roles. According to the October HPI survey, 16% of dental practices have provided more cross-training opportunities for employees in the wake of ongoing staff shortages.
Today’s dental assistants have to be versatile and adaptable to help their offices run as smoothly as possible, and many are learning skills and responsibilities outside of their traditional roles. For instance, some dental assistants are cross-trained in dental office management duties, such as scheduling appointments or explaining insurance claims and processes to patients. Cross-training can open new career opportunities for dental assistants who want to take the next step in their careers or move to leadership roles in their practices.
Some considering a job change
According to DentalPost’s 2023 dental salary survey report, about three in 10 dental assistants have recently considered a job change. The report says that 39% of dental assistants had applied for another job within the previous 12 months, and 27% were planning to do so in the next 12 months.
This data aligns with DANB’s most recent Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey, which showed that nearly one in three dental assistants regularly thought about leaving their current employer. According to DANB’s report, dental assistants most often change jobs because they want to receive better pay or their current employer doesn’t seem to appreciate them.
Read more: 5 reasons dental assistants change jobs
More dental assistants receiving health insurance
A strong benefits package shows dental assistants that they’re valued, and the conversation often centers around health insurance. Fortunately, more dental practices seem to be offering these benefits in the wake of staff shortages and recruiting struggles.
DentalPost’s survey also showed that more dental assistants in both private and corporate practices are receiving health insurance benefits compared to previous years. According to the report, 45% of dental assistants in private practices received health insurance in 2022 — up dramatically from 26% in 2021. Similarly, 80% of dental assistants in corporate practices received health benefits in 2022, up from 61% in 2021.
DANB’s 2022 survey also revealed an increase in health insurance benefits for dental assistants, jumping from 43% in 2020 to 54% in 2022. Insurance benefits were also rated as one of the most important factors in a job for dental assistants, with more than half rating it as “very important” to them.
Majority still satisfied with their jobs
Although the dental assisting profession is undergoing challenges, many still see it as a rewarding career. According to research by the ADA Health Policy Institute in collaboration with American Dental Assistants Association, American Dental Hygienists’ Association, DANB, and IgniteDA, 60% of dental assistants indicated they feel satisfied in their roles.
This data is also in line with DANB’s most recent survey, which found that 65% of dental assistants are satisfied with their jobs. Overall, more than three in four dental assistants view their work as a career and not “just” a job. Not only does dental assisting require in-depth training and knowledge, but it also provides opportunities for advancement and the ability to make real impacts in patients’ lives.These topics and more were discussed in “Allied Dental Workforce Issues, Solutions, and Action Plans,” a free webinar hosted by the American Dental Education Association in August 2023. Listen here.