The leadership of the New York State Society of Orthodontists has been working tirelessly to address the existing shortage of licensed dental assistants in our state. Although this is a nationwide problem, the problem is particularly severe in NY state. The ratio of licensed, Registered Dental Assistants to licensed Dentists in New York is approximately 1:12. There is an especially acute shortage downstate in NYC and in Westchester County where there is one licensed dental assistant for every 238 licensed dentists.
In a state-by-state comparison, New York is one of the most highly regulated states in the nation when it comes to functions that an unlicensed assistant may or may not perform and with educational/testing requirements for an assistant to become licensed and registered. We are out of step with almost every other state, and it shows in the low number of registered dental assistants.
In the winter of 2023, Drs. Renee Pompei, Yanique Le-Cadre, the current president of NYSSO, and Kenneth Cooperman attended the meeting of the New York State Board of Dentistry. This meeting was also attended by the AAO General Counsel, Trey Lawrence. They presented to the board a 10-page white paper on the NY state dental assistant shortage which included multiple statistics demonstrating the magnitude of the problem, its origins, and potential solutions that have been successful in other states. They proposed a number of changes to existing regulations which would permit our existing workforce to perform a greater spectrum of activities and would increase pathways to licensure for potential assistants–all without compromising public health, safety, and welfare and while increasing access to care. These ideas were subsequently presented to NYSDA leadership and were streamlined in preparation for resolutions to be presented at the most recent NYSDA House of Delegates meeting, which was held June 3, 2023 in Saratoga Springs, NY.
Unfortunately, shortly before the HOD meeting, the resolution to broaden the role of non-licensed dental assistants was deemed moot by the House leadership on the grounds that The Office of the Professions cannot regulate unlicensed individuals. The plan for the upcoming year is for AAO legal counsel and NYSDA legal counsel to jointly examine the technical validity of this position in hopes an alternative consensus can be reached. Another resolution to extend the period a non-RDA can practice with a limited permit was presented in front of the House and was referred to a NYSDA committee for further consideration.
NYSSO has also been working closely with the leadership of the ADAA (American Dental Assisting Association) as we recognize the importance of their support. One joint proposal is to create an alternative pathway to dental assistant licensure involving credit for work experience in lieu of taking the Chairside Assisting portion of the DANB exam. This proposal has been gathering momentum within NYSDA and the New York State Dental Board. Fast-tracking foreign trained dentists into RDA eligibility is another initiative.
We believe firmly in the power of Advocacy and ask for the continued support of NESO members. We are confident that with persistence and creative solutions, meaningful change can be implemented in the near future. Be on the lookout for future communication on what you can do to help advance these grassroots efforts!
Dr. Kenneth Cooperman