The cost of dental assistant turnover

graph increasing from left to right with a dollar sign behind it

The dental assisting profession has faced high turnover in recent years. This has strained dental assistants, who have taken on more duties in the office and, in some cases, experienced burnout. Practices have felt the impact as well.

Dental assistants are critical to productivity in practices, performing patient-facing and behind-the-scenes tasks to keep the schedule on track. In addition to helping dentists during procedures, dental assistants perform infection control duties, prepare exam rooms and instruments, take x-rays, answer patient questions, and more. When practices have vacant dental assistant positions, their overall productivity and efficiency suffer.

In the first quarter of 2024, 38% of private practices indicated they were actively recruiting dental assistants, according to the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute. And 77% of practices have found it “extremely” or “very” challenging to fill open dental assistant roles.

New research from DANB and the DALE Foundation on the Financial Impact of Dental Assistants on the Dental Practice sheds light on how these hiring struggles and dental assistant turnover affect dental practices and staffs.

More stress on other staff members

Without enough dental assistants on staff, other team members take on increased responsibilities. The research found that when a dental assistant role is open, about half of the tasks are delegated to another dental assistant and one-quarter to the dentist. Office managers and hygienists also pitch in, covering 17% and 7% of the dental assistant’s duties, respectively.

Dispersing these tasks to other team members can be costly because it lowers overall efficiency and productivity in the office. If a dental assistant position remains open for a full year, the average cost of reassigning tasks to another assistant is over $30,000. Reassigning tasks to other team members costs nearly $60,000.

Lower patient volume

Decreased productivity often means practices can’t see the same number of patients. Research shows that when a dental assistant is out of the office, one in four practices decrease or reschedule patient visits, resulting in a 6% decrease in average daily revenue. Public clinics see an even larger impact, with about half decreasing or rescheduling appointments.

When a dental assistant position remains unfilled for an extended period, these negative impacts grow. A dental assistant vacancy that lasts a full year could put around $110,000 in revenue at risk for an average practice.

Recruiting, hiring, and training expenses

According to the DANB and DALE Foundation report, it takes dental practices an average of 2.5 months to fill dental assistant positions. It takes longer for specialty and rural practices to hire new dental assistants. That means practices can face decreased productivity for an extended time when dental assistant roles are vacant. It can also take between 1 and 2.5 months to train new hires, with entry-level assistants needing more time to get up to speed.

There are also costs associated with hiring, such as advertising and recruiting. The report estimates that the average cost of dental assistant turnover is $10,000 for practices, and 10% of that, or $1,000, is spent on hiring expenses.

Research data indicates that increasing dental assistant pay by 15% reaps financial returns. By increasing wages, dental practices can mitigate dental assistant turnover, reduce associated hiring and training costs, maintain productivity levels, and preserve at-risk revenue. Read the full report below.