Dental assistant workforce coalition gains momentum

Coalition group photo

Leaders across dentistry gathered recently to discuss ways to support and promote the dental assisting profession. The group was part of a dental assistant workforce coalition, which was formed by the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) and the DALE Foundation last year.

Coalition members met in person Feb. 21 to continue their discussions and work to identify ways to elevate dental assistants. They also addressed the representation and inclusion of dental assistants in matters that impact the profession, as well as workplace culture and compensation issues.

The coalition includes leaders from more than 20 organizations, including membership organizations, dental service organizations, public health groups, insurance companies, dental product companies, and more.

Dedicated to elevating dental assistants

Rose Olague, Ph.D.(c), the director of dental assistant programs and school relations at Pacific Dental Services, said she joined the coalition because the group’s work resonated with her personally and professionally.

She started with Pacific Dental Services as a dental assistant more than 15 years ago, and through the years has advanced to her current role. She also is a member of the Dental Board of California — and is one of the few dental assistants in the country who serves on a state dental board.

“It is my professional purpose to play an active role in elevating the profession of a dental assistant, as this profession has given me both personal and professional growth that I could have never imagined or thought of 15 years ago as a 17-year-old dental assistant,” Olague said.

McAllister Castelaz, D.M.D., FAGD, FACD, is a dental public health resident and board member for the National Network for Oral Health Access. She joined the coalition to support a profession that has supported her.

“From my experiences as a dental student through my general-practice residency and into my practice in federally qualified health centers, I owe a great deal to my dental assistants,” Castelaz explained. “The seasoned assistants I worked with have always been my biggest cheerleaders when I was a new dentist. They were the ones who helped ease my transition from student to resident to practitioner. I see participation in this coalition as an opportunity to pay it forward to these individuals who helped me become the clinician that I am today.”

Different perspectives, shared values

Members of the coalition come from diverse backgrounds and work in varied roles in dentistry. As such, they bring different perspectives but have shared values.

“Throughout the meeting, I appreciated the varied experiences everyone brought to address the same goals,” Castelaz said. “The brainstorming sessions and group activities provided me with new perspectives as well as some tangible items I could bring to my own work and begin to enact on at a local level.”

“We are a group of thought leaders committed to elevating the profession of dental assistants today, tomorrow, and for generations to come,” Olague added. “Each of us is dedicated to leading change within the dental assistant profession through passion, integrity, and authenticity, as we all truly value the profession of a dental assistant within the clinical team.”

Defining the future

Next steps for coalition members involve breaking into workgroups to create plans and resources around workforce culture and forthcoming research on the financial value of dental assistants. The group will reconvene in the coming months to share progress and define next steps.

“As this group works to further quantify the value of the dental assistant and advocate for recognized rights and responsibilities for our dental assistants, I see a bright future for all dental assistants as fully realized, supported, and autonomous members of the dental team,” Castelaz said.

“It is truly rewarding to bring both awareness and change to the profession of dental assisting as we are shaping and evolving the career paths of current and future dental assistants to be able to deliver quality dentistry to the communities they serve,” Olague stressed. “We are united in our purpose and ready to make a difference for all dental assistants.”

Updates from the coalition will be shared with the dental community later this year and posted on DANB’s website.

Related: DANB and the DALE Foundation lead coalition to empower dental assistants