Minnesota Dental Assistants Facts and Data 2006-07

Dental assistants renew their Minnesota registration biannually with the Minnesota Board of Dentistry. Data in this report is gathered from that renewal process and from a voluntary survey conducted by the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care (ORHPC).

Data is reported for three categories of counties.

  • Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) counties – 21 Minnesota counties (Anoka, Benton, Carlton, Carver, Chisago, Clay, Dakota, Dodge, Hennepin, Houston, Isanti, Olmsted, Polk, Ramsey, St. Louis, Scott, Sherburne, Stearns, Wabasha, Washington and Wright counties)included in seven metropolitan statistical areas: Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Cloud, Rochester, Duluth-Superior, Fargo, Grand Forks and La Crosse
  • Micropolitan counties – 20 counties (Beltrami, Blue Earth, Brown, Cass, Crow Wing, Douglas, Freeborn, Goodhue, Kandiyohi, Lyon, McLeod, Martin, Mower, Nicollet, Nobles, Otter Tail, Rice, Steele, Wilkin and Winona counties) surrounding smaller urban centers of at least 10,000 people.
  • Rural – 46 counties outside MSAs and micropolitan areas (all counties not listed in MSA and Micropolitan).   

The counties constituting each of these categories are not geographically contiguous. ORHPC can provide data for other county groupings upon request.

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The Role of Dental Assistants

Dental assistants are unlicensed dental practitioners who work under supervision of a licensed dentist. Dental assistants may or may not be registered. Non-registered assistants may perform non-dental duties such as retracting a patient’s cheek, vacuuming or rinsing debris accumulated during dental treatment, and otherwise assisting registered dental assistants, hygienists or dentists during dental work.

Dental assistants may perform only duties delegated to unlicensed assistants by the Board of Dentistry. Registered dental assistants may perform a range of dental duties beyond what is allowed to non-registered assistants – some duties without a dentist present and others with a dentist present in the office.

Dental assistant registration requires completion of a program approved by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), or another program approved by the Board of Dentistry. CODA standards require the equivalent of a one-year post-secondary program; students may or may not earn an academic degree. In addition to competence in dental procedures, the CODA requires that graduates be competent in business office procedures, including appointment management, financial transactions, insurance paperwork, supply inventory management and patient recall systems.

Thirteen Minnesota community and technical colleges offer dental assistant programs approved by the Minnesota Board of Dentistry. The Board recognizes one North Dakota program.

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Numbers of Dental Assistants

Based on survey responses and registration data from the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care estimates that approximately 4,790 dental assistants were practicing at least part time at Minnesota practice sites in 2007-08. This is approximately 6 percent fewer than were registered in 2006. (For explanation of these estimates, see the methodological notes at the end of this report). 

The exact number of dental assistants working in Minnesota is not known. According to the Minnesota Board of Dentistry, Minnesota had 6,968 registered dental assistants at the end of 2008. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated Minnesota had about 5,300 employed dental assistants in May 2007. Some of these people renewed their registration in Minnesota, but were not working as dental assistants; many lived or practiced in other states.

Using the July 1, 2008, population estimate for Minnesota, 4,790 dental assistants equate to 92 working dental assistants per 100,000 people. The 2006 U.S. Health Workforce Profile reported 5,180 dental assistants in Minnesota, or 102 per 100,000 population.

bar chart of dental assistants per 100,000 people

All data reported below is for dental assistants who work at least part time at a primary practice site in Minnesota, according to the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care survey of dental assistants renewing registrations during 2006 and 2007.

Geographic Distribution

Dental assistant practice sites are disproportionately located in metropolitan area counties. Rural counties, with 13 percent of the state’s population, have only 8 percent of the state’s dental assistants. This pattern closely resembles the distribution of dentist practice sites. 

graph of geographic distribution of dental assistants compared to population

 

2007 Population

% Population

% of
Dental Assistants

% of Dentists

Statewide

5,231,106

100.0%

100.0%

100.0%

Metropolitan counties

3,810,396

72.8%

77.9%

77.1%

Micropolitan counties

761,302

14.6%

14.1%

14.4%

Rural

659,408

12.6%

8.0%

8.5%

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Demographics

Gender. More than 99 percent of active dental assistants are female.

Age and Career Longevity. Compared to other health care professions, dental assistants are relatively young. Sixty-three percent of dental assistants active in Minnesota received their first license in 1990 or later.

The youthful profile of the profession may also reflect a tendency for dental assistants to leave the field for other careers. Young dental assistants were more likely than middle-age assistants to say they expected to leave the field within 10 years.

bar graph of age of dental assistants

  • The dental assistant workforce is young, with a median age of 37.
  • 41 percent of dental assistants are under age 35.

While a slightly greater percentage of micropolitan and rural area dental assistants are under age 25, compared to metropolitan area counties, rural dental assistants are also more likely to be older. Forty percent of rural assistants are 45 or older, compared to only 33 percent of assistants in metropolitan area counties.

Overall, 69 percent of dental assistants said they planned to continue working more than 10 years. Thirteen percent of dental assistants under age 35 said they planned to leave the field within five years, compared to only 4 percent of assistants 35-44.

Seventy percent of active dental assistants first registered by age 25; the median age of first registration is 22.

 Age Group

Statewide

Metropolitan

Micropolitan

Rural

Median age

39

39

38

42

Less than 25

6.5%

6.1%

8.4%

7.8%

25-34

29.6%

30.5%

29.5%

21.4%

35-44

31.4%

32.0%

28.3%

30.5%

45-54

26.2%

25.6%

27.2%

30.0%

55-64

5.8%

4.8%

6.1%

8.6%

65 and older

.5%

.4%

.5%

1.6%

Total

100.0%

100.0%

100.0%

100.0%

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Race and ethnicity

The dental assistant workforce is nearly 97 percent white. Only in metropolitan area counties are minorities a significant share of the dental assistant workforce.

 

Statewide

Metropolitan

Micropolitan

 Rural

White

96.5%

95.8%

98.8%

98.75

Asian

1.3%

1.6%

.2%

-0-

Black or African American

.9%
1.3%
-0-
-0-

American Indian or Alaska Native

.9%

.9%

3.7%

-0-

Other

.4%

.5%

1.2%

.8%

(ethnicity)Spanish or Latino origin

.9%

.9%

.5%

1.3%

Note: Some respondents did not answer the question; percentages based on only respondents who answered questions. Precise data not available for metropolitan, micropolitan and other rural counties.

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Education 

The vast majority – 98 percent – of active Minnesota dental assistants received their dental assistant training in Minnesota.

Most dental assistants have two years or less of college. Eighty percent report their highest post-secondary credential is a certificate in dental assisting. Seventeen percent hold a two-year associate degree and 3 percent a bachelor’s degree. The percentages are virtually identical for dental assistants working in metropolitan, micropolitan and rural counties.

Highest post-secondary degree

Statewide

Metropolitan

Micropolitan

 Rural

Certificate

79.8%

79.6%

80.9%

80.8%

Associate degree

16.9%

16.8%

17.5%

16.7%

Bachelor’s degree

3.1%

3.4%

1.7%

2.5%

M.A. or Ph. D.

*

*

*

*

*less than .5 percent

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Practice settings

  • Forty-four percent of dental assistants are employed in private, solo-practice dental offices. Forty-eight percent work for small or large group practices.
  • Dental assistants in rural areas are more likely to be employed in solo privatedental practices than are assistants in metropolitan or micropolitan areas. The same pattern holds for dentists.

 Type of Site

Statewide

Metroplitan

Micropolitan

 Rural

Solo private

43.6%

39.5%

51.1%

70.7%

Small group private

34.5%

35.5%

36.5%

22.3%

Large group private

13.2%

15.1%

8.7%

2.5%

Staff model HMO

2.4%

3.1%

-0-

-0-

College or university

2.0%

2.4%

1.2%

.4%

Community or school clinic

1.3%

1.4%

.7%

1.2%

Hospital

.9%

1.1%

-0-

1.2%

Institution

.5%

.4%

1.2%

.4%

Long term care facility

.1%

.1%

-0-

-0-

Other

1.3%

1.4%

.7%

1.2%

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Restorative functions

The survey asked whether dental assistants perform expanded restorative functions (In addition to other activities, Chapter 150A.10, subd. 2 of Minnesota Statutes permits dental assistants to perform the following restorative functions if a dentist is available in the clinic during the procedure: 1) place, contour, and adjust amalgam restorations; (2) place, contour, and adjust glass ionomers; (3) adapt and cement stainless steel crowns; and (4) place, contour, and adjust class I and class V supragingival composite restorations where the margins are entirely within the enamel.) and if so, which. Less than 1 percent of respondents said they perform restorative functions authorized under M.S. 150A.10, subd. 4. Most respondents did not answer the question asking whether they performed restorative functions. However, when asked about specific type of restorative functions, 2 to 4 percent said they performed the following restorative functions:

  • Place, contour or adjust amalgam restorations: 2 percent
  • Place, contour or adjust glass ionomers: 2 percent
  • Place, contour or adjust Class I supragingival composite restorations: 2 percent and
  • Adapt and cement stainless steel crowns: 4 percent.

These percentages may be low. Restorative activities are one category of several duties registered dental assistants may perform when a dentist is present.

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Methodological notes

Data reported here is from responses received from dental assistants renewing registrations during 2006 and 2007. Renewals are for two-year periods, due by birth month in odd or even years based on birth year. It takes 24 months to present the survey questionnaire to all renewing dental assistants.

The Board of Dentistry received at least 6,157 license renewals during 2007 and 2008. This estimate is based on the number of active licenses in effect December 31, 2008, minus initial licenses and license reinstatements during the same time period. 

The Office of Rural Health and Primary Care received survey responses from 3,933, or about 64 percent of dental assistants renewing their licenses. At the time of license renewal, 3,061, or 78 percent, of these said they working at least part time at a primary practice site in Minnesota. Applied to 6,157 registered dental assistants, this percentage produces an estimate that about 4,790 dental assistants were working in Minnesota at least part time at the end of 2008. If dental assistants actively working in Minnesota were more likely to respond to the survey than dental assistants either not working or working outside Minnesota, the estimated number of active Minnesota dental assistants would be somewhat lower.

Using the July 1, 2008, population estimate for Minnesota (5,220,393), the estimated 4,790 dental assistants would equate 92 dental assistants per 100,000 people.

Because of different data sources and definitions, this estimate of 92 active dental assistants is not directly comparable to other reported data. The 2006 U.S. Health Workforce Profile reported that Minnesota had 5,180 dental assistants, or 102 per 100,000 population, compared to a national rate of 92. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated Minnesota had about 5,300 employed dental assistants in May 2007.

For purposes of this report, age for all respondents was calculated as of January 1, 2007 – the mid-point in the survey cycle.

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