The world has changed significantly in the last two years, and while 2020 was a year most would like to forget, many of its challenges carried over into 2021. Dental assistants have unquestionably been faced with their own unique set of difficulties inside and outside of the office.
But through it all, dental assistants still find satisfaction in their jobs and are poised to come out on the other side stronger. The future of the profession is still a bright one.
The challenges of 2021 for dental assistants
While most dental offices have reopened after closing temporarily in 2020, things aren’t quite back to the pre-pandemic normal. Patients have become less apprehensive about visiting their dentist and have largely started scheduling appointments as usual. However, the industry is facing the same issue as many others across the country: labor shortages.
A lack of both dental assistants and dental hygienists has made it difficult for practices to keep up with renewed patient demand. In May 2021, a survey by the ADA Health Policy Institute revealed that 36% of practice owners were looking to hire dental assistants. As of November 2021, that number had risen to 40%. The problem has left many dental assistants stretched thin, picking up additional responsibilities around their offices to fill the gaps. Understandably, this has caused burnout among some dental assistants.
Despite the current challenges facing dental assistants, the future of the profession remains promising.
Why dental assisting is still a worthwhile career
Despite the challenges, dental assistants largely find their jobs rewarding. DANB’s most recent Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey found that 78% of DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certificants have “high” or “very high” job satisfaction.
The survey also revealed that making a difference in patients’ lives and helping them improve oral health are the most rewarding aspects of a dental assistant’s work. “It's always nice to know that your patients really appreciate you and how you make them feel at ease in the dental chair,” Diane agrees.
Additionally, dental assistants are still in high demand, with two in five practices actively seeking to hire for the position. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects dental assistant employment to rise by 11% between 2020 and 2030, well above the average growth for all jobs (8%).
Additionally, salaries for dental assistants continue to trend up. While rates can vary based on experience, location and practice type, DANB’s Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey has shown the median hourly wage for CDA certificants has steadily increased over time.
- 2014: $19.00
- 2016: $20.46
- 2018: $20.76
- 2020: $22.09
This reflects national trends, as reported by the BLS. The average annual wage for dental assistants rose from $37,630 in 2017 to $41,180 in 2020, a 9% increase.
With so many dental assistants taking on more responsibility due to staff shortages, this presents an opportunity to earn more money and advance their careers. “We are in high demand and finding a qualified reliable assistant is few and far between,” says Jennifer.
Some dentists have offered pay increases to dental assistants during COVID-19. Other dental assistants have successfully negotiated raises with their bosses as they’ve taken an increased role in the office or gotten certified through DANB.
“I received a significant raise for staying with my doctor through COVID,” says Becky. “It allowed us to stay open through April and May last year, and he was very appreciative of that.”
Learn More: 5 Steps to Negotiating a Raise
But at the end of the day, the patients are what really fuel a passion for dental assisting.
“If you love to continuously be around people, this job is perfect for you,” says Timothy.
Ronda agrees, saying the best part of dental assisting is “building relationships, rebuilding smiles, rebuilding self-esteem, and helping others overcome fear.”