Dental Assistant IIs Build Capacity and Pathways to Care

Two issues consistently rise to the top related to the dental workforce in Virginia:

  • The significant waiting lists of new patients at dental clinics because of provider capacity limitations; and
  • The need for a more robust dental public health pathway that builds a workforce that looks like the state demographics and serves low-income and uninsured Virginians.

Members of the Future of Public Oral Health Taskforce identified dental assistant II (DAII) education programs as an opportunity to address both of these needs.

The Value of DAIIs

DAIIs are trained to perform additional dental operative duties, which frees the dentist’s time to see additional patients. Dentists that use a DAII in their practice report that their office capacity increased by as much as 30% and that the assistance contributed to more positive mental health and enjoyment of work.

Outside of the dental clinic, DAIIs can help improve access to care in Virginia. Dental offices can accept more patients with the increase in both production and efficiency in treatment as a result of a DAII. This is especially important in rural areas of Virginia where there are not enough dental providers to care for the entire population.

Partnerships Lead to Opportunities

DAIIs must participate in a training program in order to be certified as such, but the only DAII program in Virginia in 2021 was at Germanna Community College (GCC) outside of Fredericksburg. Through connections from the Taskforce, staff at Mountain Empire Community College (MECC) partnered with GCC staff to launch a companion DAII program in October of 2022. The program prepares certified DAs and RDHs with the clinical knowledge to serve in a dynamic and growing health profession as valuable members of the dental team.

The partnership will double the number of DAII graduates each semester and enable Virginians from Southwest Virginia to enroll in the program. The success of this program could lead to a replicable curriculum model, and the ARPA funds could be leveraged to spread it throughout the community college system in Virginia. “We now have the opportunity to eliminate educational barriers and utilize other community colleges to provide the training closer to home,” explains Dr. Emily Kate Bowen, the Dental Assistant Program Director at MECC.

“DAII’s are one piece of the puzzle that will help to improve access to quality oral health care in Virginia,” says Misty Messimer, the Dental Assisting and Dental Hygiene Program Director at GCC. New partnerships like this can support ideas to fit the remaining pieces together so that all Virginians have access to dental care and each member the dental team reaches their fullest potential.