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Some states report that 90% of practices in the country have recruited for a dental assistant in the last year and 40% of those vacancies remained unfilled. The demand for this key role is very high, and there is an expectation that the demand for dental assistants will grow by 11% in coming years.
Advantage Dental's Dental Assistant Training Program
In late 2020, Advantage Dental launched a Dental Assistant Pathways pilot* project in Oregon, that would assist in training new hires with no previous dental experience to become a dental assistant. In addition, Advantage Dental has partnered with other Oregon agencies to develop a secondary pathway designed to create a new dual role position, working both as a dental assistant and patient health navigator within a dental practice.
Training is available for those with certification in either role to gain the experience necessary to be dual certified**. This dual role will allow the individual to assist in the provision of care while providing support as a patient navigator, assisting patients by removing barriers to care and identifying and mitigating unmet social needs.
The goal is to employ dental assistant/patient navigators in Advantage Dental practices throughout Oregon over a three-year period. The program addresses a workforce shortage while increasing the diversity of the workforce and improving access to care.
Innovative Solutions for Workforce Challenges
Alicia Melendez, Manager, Dental Assistant Training, developed and implemented Advantage Dental’s new dental assistant training program.
“The new Dental Assistant Pathways training program is designed to onboard a new employee while observing and building upon their strengths and weaknesses. This also allows the new employee to gain a firm understanding of the Advantage Dental culture and mission. New dental assistants are developed in a very short period and are provided the tools and support to be confident, knowledgeable and successful in their role,” Melendez states.
Mendez brings over 30 years of dental assisting experience working in several dental practices. Her experiences ranges from providing care through Medical Teams International doing mobile dentistry, and served in numerous academic programs including overseeing 17 dental assisting programs across the United States as a National Academic Dean. Additionally, she has served as expert reviewer in the textbook ‘The Modern Dental Assistant’ for Elsevier; a globally recognized publisher and textbook.
The six week program (length of the program may vary based on the employee’s incoming experience level) is thoughtfully designed to ensure the new employee learns the basic skills needed to perform their job to the best of their ability. A designated regional dental assistant trainer and lead dental assistant will guide the new hire through the curriculum.
Become a Rock Star in the Dental Field
For those new to dental assisting, the program is created to best acclimate the new employee to patient-centered care and the responsibilities and duties associated with this role. Things like infection control processes, working with our patient electronic records and gradually working them into clinical chairside assisting skills are reviewed and put into practice by working hands-on.
By having a dedicated regional trainer, and a lead dental assistant mentor, new dental assistants are exposed to patient care, able to ask questions, receive support material on dental terminology and can gain a firm understanding what dental assisting really consists of.
“It is definitely a short program; however, we know our dentists and lead dental assistants will be working with our new dental assistants during and after the 6 weeks to build upon the foundational knowledge they gain,” Melendez mentions.
The curriculum also includes a 4-hour lecture training each Friday, for the duration of the program, with one of the dental training team trainers. This lecture time will cover and review basic terminology and concepts to support the dental assistant in gaining knowledge about their role.
At the conclusion of the 6-week training, the new dental assistant will be clinically assessed by the Regional Trainer and/or the Lead Dental Assistant. This assessment is not designed as “pass” or “fail”, but “how can we further support and train?”, and/or “great job on the accomplishments this far!”
Though trainings are accelerated and completed over a short period of time, new dental assistants are supported by Melendez, the practice manager, a regional dental assistant trainer, dentists and lead dental assistants in their continued career growth. The expectation is all dental assistants have continued development beyond the training period by working with dentists to enhance clinical skills.
Whether you are just starting out or experienced, we have on-the-job training to support and help you advance your career.
“Dental assisting can open many doors. It is a great career path with solid employability and satisfaction. You may enjoy dental assisting because you have a passion to help others or simply because you want a career opportunity with growth and recognition. You never know where dental assisting can take you,” Melendez says.
With time and experience, dental assistants can expand their skills and become certified in dental radiology as well as other expanded functions. Opportunities for career growth leading to a Dental Assistant II or Lead Dental Assistant position are possible. Advantage Dental supports employees who wish to grow into management or other roles within the organization.
*This program is a pilot and continuously being improved. The pilot and program is subject to change at any point. Please reach out to Alicia Melendez, Manager, Dental Assistant Training for any questions regarding this program and its current status.
**Official training courses and certifications for either dental assisting or THW is provided by a third-party organization. Advantage Dental+ provides the support necessary to complete the certification(s), but only acts as a liaison and mentor, and not qualified school.