Survey provides insights on hiring dental assistants

Even before COVID-19, there were several reports of dental assisting shortages in locations across the country. Since the pandemic, many dental practices have found it even more challenging to fill vacant dental assisting positions. That’s why it’s critical for dental practices to know how to attract and retain knowledgeable and skilled dental assistants. The Dental Assisting National Board (DANB) recently conducted a survey that provides some insight into this area.

DANB’s 2020-2021 Dental Assistants Salary and Satisfaction Survey includes responses from nearly 1,400 dental assistants across the country, including those who hold DANB’s Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification and those who do not. Below are some key findings from the research.

The certification difference

Dental assistants who hold DANB’s CDA certification are educated and experienced professionals who are committed to the profession and passionate about lifelong learning. Of those surveyed, 44% of DANB CDA certificants held an associate degree or higher compared to 27% of non-certified assistants. Additionally, 42% of CDA certificants held a state-specific expanded functions credential compared to 22% of non-certified assistants.

The education and credentials that DANB CDA certificants hold allows them to contribute in greater ways to the dental practice. For example: CDA certificants were significantly more likely to order supplies, be delegated expanded functions, and perform office management duties compared to non-certified assistants. What’s more, CDA certificants reported high employer loyalty, working for the same employer for an average of almost 8 years.

Dental assistants' job satisfaction

Overall, dental assistants reported high job satisfaction. Of those surveyed, 78% of dental assistants who hold CDA certification reported very high or high job satisfaction, as did 72% of dental assistants who are not certified. This is good news because it indicates that those who go into the dental assisting field are generally passionate about the work and helping patients. Surveyed dental assistants reported that the most rewarding aspects of their jobs were making a difference in patients’ lives, helping patients improve their oral health, and patient relationships and gratitude.

Factors dental assistants want in a job

When asked what factors are most important in a job, the top three according to dental assistants were salary, work/life balance, and feeling part of a team. Not surprisingly, the survey identified a link between job satisfaction and pay: Dental assistants with very high job satisfaction reported the highest salaries, earning about $4 more per hour compared to those with very low job satisfaction.

Three things dentists can do to attract and retain dental assistants:

1. Look at compensation models.

Salary is the most important factor to dental assistants, so it’s helpful for dental practices to ensure they are paying a competitive wage. Dentists who employ CDA certificants can look to DANB’s salary survey results to see hourly wages by state. Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics reports the wages of dental assistants across the country. See DANB’s salary survey results.

See the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics wages report.

Because dentists are faced with their own financial challenges and operating cost increases, consider implementing performance-based bonuses tied to production goals or individual duties. This will help dental assistants feel motivated and invested in the practice’s success.

2. Invest in dental assistant education and credentials.

Most dental assistants view dental assisting as a career, which presents an incredible opportunity for dentists to support professional development for dental assistants, which will also lead to increased productivity. Consider offering financial support for continuing education opportunities to dental assistants that can be completed online outside of patient hours, like those offered through the DALE Foundation, DANB’s official affiliate.

Also consider supporting dental assistants in earning state credentials and national DANB certification. When dental assistants are educated and credentialed, they will feel greater job satisfaction and be able to contribute more significantly to the practice’s success. Learn about DANB CDA certification.

3. Foster a culture of recognition.

Feeling part of a team is a top factor for dental assistants’ job satisfaction. Find a way to regularly recognize individual and dental team member achievements. The approach to recognition can be informal, such as saying “thank you” for a job well done, or it can be formal, like an employee of the month program. With any approach, providing words of encouragement and thanks will go a long way toward building a work environment where dental assistants want to stay for the long term.