Dental assistants play an essential role in the dental office under any circumstances — including during a global pandemic.

Kathy T. agrees: “Assistants are the backbone of the office.” She also notes that assistants may be underappreciated for their hard work, especially given the risks of infection exposure they face.

Despite current challenges in the dental workplace, dental assistants are in high demand across the country — and the profession’s outlook continues to grow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental assistant employment is projected to increase 7% through 2029, faster than the average for all occupations.

Below, we explore some top reasons why dental assistants remain very much needed and valuable today.

 

Oral Healthcare Is Essential

It’s a fact: No matter what, people need access to oral healthcare. And the results of DANB’s October 2020 survey of 550 dental assistants show that about 40% see the same number of patients coming in to their workplace as before the pandemic.

“Thankfully, we’ve resumed work with about the same amount of patients as before,” one dental assistant respondent observes.

With most dental offices open again after temporary closures, dental assistants remain critical to helping patients receive dentist-recommended treatment. Dental assistants also contribute to patients having a positive visit, helping them navigate new policies and procedures put in place to protect staff and patients.

“From March through summer 2020, our dental team had decreased hours and a smaller patient base, being open only 16-20 hours per week,” describes one dental assistant. “Now, our office is back to having normal hours, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a full staff and patient schedule.

“However, we’re only seeing patients in the office at a reduced capacity, limiting the number of people who can be in the waiting room, with others waiting in their cars to come in. Temperature checks are taken on each patient and worker every day, and everyone answers COVID screening questions.”

Dental assistants have been instrumental in implementing such screening protocols, the survey shows.

 

Infection Control Knowledge Is Key

In addition to helping with screening, dental assistants continue to play a key role in infection control. This is particularly important now, as offices follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interim guidelines for COVID-19.

Research from the DALE Foundation, the official DANB affiliate, has shown that dental assistants are on the front lines of keeping patients and providers safe. In fact, according to 99% of dentists and dental assistants surveyed through the DALE Foundation’s Value of Dental Assistants to the Dental Practice research, sterilization and disinfection duties are delegated to dental assistants in the practice.

This is why it’s extremely important for the entire dental team to be able to access infection control education like the OSAP-DALE Foundation Dental Infection Prevention and Control Certificate Program, as well as through DANB and the DALE Foundation.

A dental assistant survey respondent agrees: “There’s been so much focus lately on infection control that this should make those in the dental field realize the need to have every dental assistant pass DANB’s Infection Control (ICE) exam and earn DANB Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification.

“I’ve felt this way for years, and I especially do now.”

 

Many Job Opportunities for Dental Assistants

Even with dental offices reopened, the results of our recent COVID-19 survey indicate a shortage of dental assistants in many locations. In fact, 33% of dental assistants surveyed say the number of dental assistants in their workplace appears to be lower than normal. And approximately 65% of dental assistant respondents whose offices were looking to hire a dental assistant say it seems to be harder now to hire dental assistants to join their teams.

Although the limited number of dental assistants is a challenge for dental practices, it presents an opportunity for dental assistants.

Changes due to COVID-19 can equal new opportunities for career growth, both for those just entering the field and for those looking to pivot to a new role.

For example, one dental assistant we surveyed says: “I was asked to be the emergency assistant at the beginning of the pandemic, and I had just graduated from school and been hired in November 2019.”

And another dental assistant reports that after being let go from their previous office as a result of the pandemic, finding the next job was a quicker process than expected — and it came with a silver lining.

“Thankfully, they’re paying more than my last employer did,” this dental assistant shares.

Similarly, another survey respondent has observed an abundance of job postings: “There are so many assistant jobs out there now due to the COVID pandemic. Job-seeking assistants can have their pick of the best money and job hours for them.”

 

What has been your experience lately in the dental office?