Massachusetts Dentists Alliance Lobbies Governor for More Dental Assistants

Michael W. Davis, DDS
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The Massachusetts Dentists Alliance for Quality Care (MDA) has sent an open letter to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker. MDA president Dr. Jill Tanzi has asked the governor to take emergency action to temporarily amend requirements for dental assisting licensing.

In Massachusetts, regulation of the practice of dentistry falls to the Board of Registration in Dentistry (BORID), which requires all dental assistants to be licensed. Since 2016, in the interest of public safety, dental assistants have had to take mandatory courses in OSHA regulations and infection control, obtain dental radiology certification, and complete CPR training. Since 2019, they also have had to pass an ethics and jurisprudence exam.

Even prior to the pandemic crisis, Massachusetts dentists were having a difficult time securing qualified staffing for dental assistant positions. The MDA letter contends that today the situation has worsened dramatically, noting that “During the current COVID-19 surge there are almost no applicants for the dental assisting positions in the state.” 

The MDA specifically asked Baker to “Please consider an emergency executive order to immediately extend the initial on-the-job training period from six months to 12 months without formal notification to BORID until the candidate wishes to be licensed and take x-rays. Many of these courses are already required and offered within the dental office, such as CPR, infection control, and OSHA training. This would be more in line with medical assistants in our state who require no licensure.”

The MDA letter further said that “This order would provide dentists with enough dental assistants to service our patients, maintain proper infection control, and provide excellent paying jobs ($18-35/hour) to people with or without a college education in our communities, such as restaurant workers who are currently unemployed.”

The letter concluded by asking Baker to “Please consider this emergency action to aid those in need of employment and to allow dentists to allow greater access to care for all citizens of the Commonwealth. Without a properly fully staffed dental team, our availability remains limited.”

“Before the pandemic, dental offices had difficulty hiring support staff. This difficulty has turned into an extreme shortage of dental personnel due to the nature of our jobs,” Tanzi told Dentistry Today.

“In Massachusetts, the number of licensed dental assistants to doctors is 1.25:1. We feel this number needs to be at least two or three assistants per doctor to have a healthy labor pool. The Massachusetts Dentists Alliance for Quality Care is petitioning Governor Charlie Baker to lessen the burden of licensing entry-level dental assistants in hopes of creating more jobs for those furloughed from service industries, such as restaurants and hotels,” Tanzi continued.

“These employees are well-suited for a career in dental assisting. Currently, all dental assistants in Massachusetts need to be licensed, even those just starting out with basic tasks that are completely overseen by a doctor. Conversely, medical assistants in Massachusetts do not require any licensing and are not overseen by any (state) agency,” Tanzi said.

Obviously, advocacy positions taken by the MDA and Tanzi are relevant beyond a single state. Such emergency actions have national implications. Many dental auxiliaries have left the dental profession subsequent to mandatory state shutdowns and clinic layoffs. Others have left their careers over concerns about COVID-19.

Under Tanzi’s leadership, the MDA is taking proactive steps to elevate numbers in critical dental assisting staffing. The public cannot be served with essential services of dental healthcare without adequate dental personnel. Moreover, viable opportunities are expanded for the unemployed.

Dr. Davis practices general dentistry in Santa Fe, NM. He assists as an expert witness in dental fraud and malpractice legal cases. He currently chairs the Santa Fe District Dental Society Peer-Review Committee and serves as a state dental association member to its house of delegates. He extensively writes and lectures on related matters. He may be reached at mwdavisdds@comcast.net or smilesofsantafe.com.

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