CECU: Shortage of Skills: 58,000 Dental Assistants Needed

March 10, 2017 - Washington, DC - This month the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 7.5 million Americans are unemployed, while at the same time 5.5 million jobs remain unfilled in America. This gap in labor exists because employers demand job-ready employees and millions of prospective employees are simply not able to bridge the skills gap without appropriate career education and training. One such career is dental assisting, where career education colleges and universities produced over half of the academic awards in 2015. 

In honor of Dental Assistant Recognition week, CECU’s March SOS release focuses on the need for well-trained dental assistants. With the growing awareness of the importance of good oral health, the dental assistant profession has a much faster than average growth rate of 18% in the next 10 years. There will be a need for 58,600 trained dental assistants by 2024. Just in 2015, private sector career colleges and universities produced 14,944 academic awards in the dental assisting field, 64% of those produced across all sectors of higher education, according to CECU research supported by data from the U.S. Department of Education IPEDS database and BLS. From 2011-2015, a total of 88,492 academic awards in the dental assisting field came from career colleges and universities.

Dental assistants perform important tasks in a dentist’s office, and will increasingly be needed to assist dentists in managing a higher number of patients. From patient care, to cleaning treatment areas and tools, to clerical tasks such as scheduling appointments and working on billing, dental assistants help dentist’s offices function smoothly and allow them to help a higher volume of patients. Their median pay in 2015 was $35,980, right around the median income for all occupations, and higher than the median pay for other healthcare support occupations. This, combined with the high expected growth of the profession, presents a promising outlook for those studying to become dental assistants.

As research linking oral health with overall health expands, BLS expects that the demand for dental services will increase. A fact sheet from the Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expands on the connection between oral and general health, saying that diseases such as “diabetes, heart disease, HIV, cancer, and some eating disorders are linked with oral health problems,” and that “regular dental exams” can help patients avoid such health issues.  In addition, pregnant women should take special care of their dental health, as they are at risk for conditions such as pregnancy gingivitis. Research is also under way to determine a link between gum disease and low-birth-weight babies. Men, on the other hand, are at risk of poor dental health simply by neglecting it more often than women, according to the Academy of General Dentistry. The AGD reports that the “average man brushes his teeth only 1.9 times a day and will lose 5.4 teeth by age 73.”

 “Our dental assisting program prepares students for a career in dental assisting through both classroom learning and externships,” said LeeAnn Rohman, president of High Desert Medical College. “Students leave with the skills they need to be successful in the field.”

“As oral health research and awareness expands, providing students with the skills needed to enter the rapidly growing dental assisting field becomes more and more important,” said Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of CECU. “By providing students with well-rounded training and degrees in dental assisting, our institutions make a sustainable career possible for thousands of Americans.”

About Shortage of Skills 
Each month CECU will profile America’s “Shortage of Skills” (SOS) in one key industry. We will examine industries that are critical to America’s economic advancement and explain how a well-educated and well-trained workforce can address these issues. See previous SOS releases here.

About Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU)
Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU) is a membership organization of accredited institutions of higher education that provide postsecondary education with a career focus. CECU’s work supports thousands of campuses that education millions of students.  

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