New survey results reveal opportunities for the future of dental assisting

Red arrow stands out from group of white arrows pointing up to right

The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) has released new survey findings, which shed light on the pressing challenges and shared aspirations for the dental assisting profession. The survey results show that dentists prefer to hire qualified dental assistants; dental assistants want to pursue education and credentials; and patients expect their dental assistant to be educated and credentialed.


Current challenges and shortages

However, there is currently a national shortage of qualified dental assistants, which has resulted in dental practices facing reduced capacity, efficiency, and productivity. Each state has different laws, regulations, and scopes of practice for dental assistants, and this has been a contributing factor to reduced workforce mobility and insufficient numbers of qualified dental assistants.

DANB commissioned two surveys to learn more about the perspectives of the dental community and the public on dental assisting professional requirements. These survey results will inform the Dental Assisting Professional Model Workgroup and its efforts to develop a proposed framework for the dental assisting profession.

Readiness for new solutions

The survey responses from dentists and dental assistants illuminate a clear readiness for new solutions and overall agreement on several key issues.

  • Current laws and regulations could be improved. Only 10% of dentists and dental assistants said their state’s current laws and regulations were excellent, while about 75% said they were satisfactory or average.
  • Dental assistant career growth is a top issue. Both dentists and dental assistants recognized that their state’s current laws and regulations do not create opportunities for career growth for dental assistants, with 47% citing this as an issue.
  • There is support for a national model. Overall, 83% of dentists and dental assistants indicated support for states to adopt similar dental assisting laws, regulations, and scopes of practice to create more uniformity for the profession across the country.

Patient expectations on qualifications

DANB also sought input from patients and the public, as the dental assisting requirements set by state legislators and regulators are intended to uphold public protection. Nearly 3 out of 4 people surveyed said they expected their dental assistant to be educated and credentialed.

Since the public may not be clear about the work dental assistants do, and how it differs from the work of dental hygienists, the survey opened with a brief description of a dental assistant’s role. With this foundation, the members of the public were asked a few questions, and their responses underscored their expectations for educated and credentialed dental assistants.

  • Patients expect dental assistants to be credentialed: 70% expect their dental assistant to hold a state license or registration, and 44% expect them to hold an industry certification.
  • Patients cite the importance of dental assisting exams, with 73% reporting it was very important to them that their dental assistant passed some type of exam to demonstrate their knowledge.
  • Patients value educated dental assistants, with 73% responding it was very important for dental assistants to have formal education in dental assisting, and 64% indicating dental assistants should have a certificate or associate degree in dental assisting as the minimum level of education.

Charting a path forward

Equipped with these insights and other data, the Dental Assisting Professional Model Workgroup has begun to develop a dental assisting framework that is practical, is straightforward to implement, and supports the needs of the dental community and the patients they serve. The ideal framework will not only address existing barriers and discrepancies, but also lay the groundwork for a more unified, dynamic, and empowered dental assisting profession across the nation.

Related: Dental Assisting Professional Model Workgroup to hold first meeting

About the surveys

The dental survey was distributed in October 2023 to dental professionals. The survey received 500+ responses from dentists and 600+ responses from dental assistants, which met the minimum sample sizes for these populations. Responses were received from all 50 states and Washington, D.C.

The public survey was distributed by an independent research company in November 2023 to more than 1,000 consumers to gauge public sentiment on dental assistant education and training. Respondents were diverse across a number of aspects, including of age, race, ethnicity, education level, household income, geography, and marital/family status. More than 60% had visited the dentist within the last 12 months.

The results of both surveys were analyzed and reported to DANB by its research partner, McCabe Message Partners.