Little pay increase and difficult working conditions lead to high turnover.

With up to 12-hour shifts spent standing up and bending over, a relatively low salary with little pay increase (the average wage for a dental assistant is approximately $40,000 per year according to Payscale.com), and few career development opportunities, dental assisting is being recognized across Ontario as a burnout profession.

Service Canada documents the high turnover rate in this field, noting this is “largely attributable to difficult working conditions.” The Ontario Dental Fee Guide increases the fees and costs of dental treatment yearly, and yet dental assistants have nothing to show for it.

We can no longer sit back and watch the dental industry and supporting organizations promote this as a viable career path.

Isn’t it time our dental assistants are paid what they’re worth?

At the end of the day, the dentist cannot achieve his or her hourly production rate without the help of a dental assistant. As I often tell my clients, good work is not cheap, and cheap work is not good.

At Hire Personnel Solutions, we receive phone calls regularly from clients who are having difficulty recruiting dental assistants. It’s no secret that dental assistants are hard to come by, and finding one who is openly looking for a position at a different dental office is a challenge. The grass is rarely greener in another office; it’s the same pay and working conditions with the added learning curve associated with a new team and operation. There’s simply not enough to entice a dental assistant to make the change.

In order to find and retain skilled dental assistants who are the right fit for the job, we need to take a closer look at the challenges they face.

Did you know dental assisting is the only profession within the circle of dental auxiliary (ie. dentists, hygienists, technicians) that doesn’t have a regulated or governing body in the province of Ontario? Other provinces in Canada are regulated, but Ontario is not.

And still, dental assistants must pay an annual membership fee of $120 plus HST (tax deductible) in order to claim they are “certified.” This is the same organization that dentists hear from recommending they hire “certified” dental assistants at their office. The only difference between a certified and non-certified dental assistant is that the organization’s mandate that dental assistants pay the yearly fee and take two to three continuing education courses a year. This membership offers recognized discounts with different companies and organizations. Here are our dental assistants, stuck clipping coupons to support a below acceptable rate of pay. Perhaps this is the image we should be showing our next graduating class.

We need to make a change.

Since the body of people representing dental assistants in Ontario refuses to do so, it’s now up to the industry. Our dental assistants deserve an organization that protects them from working 12-hour shifts without a lunch break. These long hours stretch into evenings and weekends, taking away time spent with their families. They’re assigned duties normally performed by a hygienist—stretching well beyond their scope of training—all because employers are looking to save on costs. Not only do our dental assistants deserve fair pay and benefits, they deserve more respect and appreciation.

Dental businesses and colleges must re-think what it’s going to take to find and retain dedicated dental assistants. According to Service Canada, “In 2011, the percentage of dental assistants aged 55 and over was much lower than in all occupations (7.5% of jobs compared with 17.6%).” The fee for a complete oral exam in 2011 was approximately $122; now, five years later, the average fee has increased by 8.0% averaging around $133. Dental Assistant wages have certainly NOT increased much in five years although the average dental office continues to generate increased revenue with increased dental fees.  In 2014, dental assistants in Ontario were reported making as little as $13 per hour. Two years later, the Ontario Dental Assistants Association’s 2016 Salary Survey finds many members report earning less than $12 per hour. The ODAA recently shared these numbers on its Facebook page, calling them “shocking and unbelievable.”

As someone who started her career as a dental assistant over 25 years ago, and now works as a recruiter and consultant in the industry, I understand firsthand what these numbers entail. Dental assisting has the potential to be a truly rewarding career path, and yet we continue to see dental assistants reroute to pursue a job in dental hygiene or other fields instead. One way or another, dental offices are going to have to offer higher pay and higher standards in order to attract their next dental assistant.

What do you think? How can we work together to better support our dental assistants? Leave a comment on the blog, or reach out to me and share your thoughts on Twitter.