Two-Handed Dentistry

Author: Timothy A. Brown

Some years ago, I purchased a small dental personnel agency in order to assist a very serious need expressed by many of my clients—a shortage of high quality people to work in a dental practice. Later, we expanded our business to include associates and locums.

I have to admit it has not gone well. There is a disconnect between the supply of quality applicants/candidates looking for employment compared to the demand for said personnel. We are contacted daily by numerous dental practices looking for both permanent, part-time or temporary help.

Currently, the number one concern seems to be the short supply of dental assistants.

Why is that?

After making some inquiries around the industry, it appears that most of the schools offering dental assisting programs have experienced a substantial reduction in the number of applicants seeking to qualify as a dental assistant. The common belief is that being a dental assistant does not pay well and it no longer appeals to the younger generation (typically young women) as a career to pursue.

Dental assistants often become dental hygienists and/or dental receptionists as they appreciate and learn the mechanics of dental practice. By navigating into a front desk management position or hygiene, they usually improve their income and prolong their careers.

If we extrapolate the current short supply of applicants for dental assisting schools and we look at the next 5 to 10 years, we will see the disconnect in the law of supply and demand clearly. Namely, when the current group of dental office personnel and hygienists retire or reduce their hours later in their careers, the available supply of dental assistants seeking those positions will be scarce.  The few candidates that are available will certainly not be replaced when their careers are at an end.

Therefore, I am predicting the return of two-handed dentistry. This is not a desirable alternative for most dentists.

What can be done?

Perhaps we could reduce the school/educational requirements with a shorter course of study and lower tuition costs.  This would allow graduate dental assistants to enter the workforce sooner and to earn an income faster than current graduates.

Perhaps the dental profession needs to start offering higher wages in order to attract dental assistants to their practice and into the dental assisting programs.

It is entirely possible that in some areas where there may be an over-supply of licensed dental hygienists, that some of them may have to lower their expectations and return to the dental assisting role.

Regardless of what happens, it is obvious there will be a serious shortage of dental assistants, not only today but in the near future. Therefore, as the current supply of assistants logically and naturally progress into the more advanced positions in dental practice, there will be a ever-increasing demand for new graduate dental assistants and the end result is that many dentists may have to start working as a two-handed practitioner once again.

Are you ready for this?