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Dental

Overview

This page provides information and data on various sub-sectors within the Dental industry.

The primary purpose of the Dental Services sector is to provide general or specialised dentistry services to improve oral health across the country. The dental workforce consists of both registered and non-registered health care professionals, and job roles can involve undertaking a wide range of functions, including administration and assistance, operational (i.e. technician and specialist) and/or supervisory, and management activities. The Dental Services Training Package is specifically focused on the skills training for primarily non-registered job roles such as Dental Assistants, Dental Technicians and Dental Laboratory Assistants.

While dental services are delivered by both private and public providers, the industry is primarily made up of small, independent private dental practices. Their locations are heavily distributed towards metropolitan areas, with regional and rural communities generally under-represented. There are approximately 15,000 dental service businesses across Australia (as at June 2018).

The Dental Assistant workforce is expected to experience moderate job growth over the next few years to reach a total number of 36,400 by 2024. Dental Hygienist, Technician and Therapist roles are projected to experience incremental growth to reach a total of 8,900 by 2024.

The Dental Industry Reference Committee (IRC) is responsible for nationally recognised dental qualifications, packaged within the HLT – Health Training Package. There is no new Training Package development work proposed for 2019–2020, as consultation with the Dental Industry Reference Committee and the broader Dental industry did not identify any skills gaps which require action in the current year. However, work to update the Training Package Products is currently being conducted on two qualifications: HLT35015 - Certificate III in Dental Assisting and HLT45015 - Certificate IV in Dental Assisting.

Information sourced from the most recently available Skills Forecast, the Dental IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

For information on other health-related training and employment, visit the Health industry page and the various sub-sectors.

All data sources are available at the end of the page.

IRC and skills forecasts

The Dental IRC was not required to submit an annual update to their 2019 Skills Forecast during 2020. As such, the version published in 2019 remains the most recently published Skills Forecast for this industry.

Employment trends

Please note: any employment projections outlined below were calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics prior to COVID-19.

Employment snapshot

The employment levels for Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists and Dental Assistants grew between 2000 and 2020, although this growth has not been consistent. Employment levels have more than doubled for Dental Assistants from 10,500 in 2000 to 23,800 in 2020 and employment projections to 2024 show continued strong growth (to 36,400). Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists have also seen growth, from 4,500 in 2000 to 7,400 in 2020, and employment is projected to grow to 8,900 by 2024.

According to 2016 Census data, approximately 60% of Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists are employed in the Dental Services industry, 28% are employed in the Medical and Surgical Equipment Manufacturing industry, and 4.5% are employed in hospitals. Nearly 90% of Dental Assistants work in the Dental Services industry and 3.6% are employed in hospitals.

Training trends

Training snapshot

In 2019, program enrolments in Dental-related qualifications returned to peak levels just eclipsing the 2017 peak, with just over 6,980 enrolments. Conversely, the downward trend with program completions continued with about 2,170 program completions in 2019, down from the approximate peak of 2,780 completions in 2016. Just over two-thirds (66%) of enrolments in 2019 were at the certificate III level and nearly a quarter (23%) were at the certificate IV level. About 86% of program enrolments were in Dental Assisting qualifications with the intended occupation of Dental Assistant.

Training was mainly delivered by TAFE institutes (51%) and private training providers (42%) in 2019. About 55% of the Advanced Diploma of Dental Prosthetics was delivered by TAFE institutes and the remaining 46% was delivered by universities.

Approximately 64% of funding for subjects was from government, with 28% from domestic fee for service and 7% from international fee for service.

Approximately 30% of students were located in New South Wales, 23% in Victoria and 18% in Queensland. More than one third (36%) of training was delivered in New South Wales, followed by Queensland (29%) and Victoria (20%).

Overall, apprentice and trainee commencements and completions have declined between 2010 and 2019. There were approximately 790 apprentice and trainee commencements in 2019, with the number of commencements about the same as it was in 2014. Completions rose slightly between 2018 and 2019 to just over 540. The main intended occupation for apprentices and trainees in 2019 was Dental Assistant. Around 41% of apprenticeships and traineeships were reported by Victoria, with about 20% by Queensland, 14% by New South Wales and 10% by South Australia.

For more data specific to your occupation, industry or training package, please visit NCVER’s VET Students by Industry. If you are prompted to log in, please select cancel and you will continue to be directed to the program.

For more data specific to your region please visit NCVER’s Atlas of Total VET.

If you are interested in extracting NCVER data to construct tables with data relevant to you, please sign up for a VOCSTATS account.

Industry insights

Industry insights on skills needs

The Dental IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast identified the top priority skills for the sector as teamwork and communication, technical / job specific skills, resilience, stress tolerance and flexibility, problem solving and self-management.

The top five identified generic skills are:

  • Learning agility / Information literacy / Intellectual autonomy and self-management (adaptability)
  • Communication / Virtual collaboration / Social intelligence
  • Language, Literacy and Numeracy (LLN) (Foundation skills)
  • Technology
  • Customer Service / Marketing.

According to the job vacancy data, the top requested skills by employers in the sector were communication skills and detail orientated. The most advertised occupations were Dental Assistant, followed by Dental Assistant/Receptionist. The top employers were the New South Wales Government and the Queensland Government.

According to the Dental IRC's 2019 Skills Forecast, overall, technical skills are imperative for workers in the Dental Services sector. However, there is a growing demand for key soft skills such as teamwork and communication.

Over the years both the Dental Services sector and clinical practices have evolved significantly. The sector is experiencing several challenges which are impacting workforce skills requirements, including:

  • Technology – the ability of providers to adopt new technology can be limited due to the lack of resources and skills within dental practices
  • Dental registration standards and guideline reviews – the need to adapt in response to recommendations put forward via the various current and future reviews across the sector (including the upcoming reviews on Guidelines on infection control and Guidelines on dental records)
  • Lack of career progression – due to the lack of opportunities available to Dental Assistant and Technician roles.

Technology over the years has been changing the way oral health and dentistry treatments, practices and support are delivered, and the sector has had to evolve quickly to adapt to new devices and practices as they have been released. Technological developments have included the implementation of new scanning equipment, digital radiography, computerised charting and intra-oral cameras. Computer-based technologies are now very much embedded in most practices.

Technology has not only progressed in relation to how treatments and dental care are delivered, but also with regard to how dental practices operate. The digitisation of patient records, the collection and processing of digital imaging data and the increasing demand for online appointment keeping and engagement with patients have meant the work environment today is very much driven by technology and online platforms. As such, adopting new technology is therefore a critical success factor for dental practices. The ability to learn and operate new equipment and implement online processes are key workforce skills. Indeed, it could be an important factor in driving a practice’s growth. The recent CommBank dental insight report: understanding patient preferences to drive growth found that across all practice types, a lack of in-house skills is holding back technology adoption.

In 2018, the Dental Board conducted a public consultation to review Australia's registration standards and guidelines. The recommendations, formed through the consultation outcomes, are likely to impact the relationships and functions of all job roles across the sector to different extents. The Dental Board is in the process of finalising the review findings for submission to the Ministerial Council, and the outcomes will need to be considered by the dental workforce.

Issues have been raised across the sector regarding the limited career progression opportunities available to Dental Assistant and Technician roles. The predominantly small-business nature of employers in the sector can mean career progression within a single business is limited. Continuing professional development is therefore critical to supporting the workforce in continuing their learning and careers whilst employed in small organisational structures.

Access to training which is linked to clear career pathways will be beneficial to ensuring that Dental Assistants and Technicians are provided with opportunities to enhance their skills and grow within the dental services sector. Defining career progression options is not only important to minimise staff turnover and enhance job satisfaction, but it is also an important element for attracting workers to job roles.

Authors of the article Professionalism by Proxy: a Case for the Formal Regulation of Dental Assistants in Australia, highlight that Dental Assistants are the most numerous member of the dental team in Australia, responsible for many clinical and non-clinical duties, but they are not registered and regulated in the same manner as their clinical colleagues within the dental profession. The authors argue the current stance towards Dental Assistants is often perpetuated by a dental profession whose motives would not seem to be free from issues of professional dominance. The authors also recognise the potential of Dental Assistants to be an essential division of the dental profession in providing culturally competent, economically viable and sustainable oral healthcare to those communities that are traditionally difficult to access.

South Australia’s Oral Health Plan 2019-2026 picks up this issue in support of its goal to ensure the oral health workforce meets the needs of the community. It states that optimising the full range of skills within the oral health workforce, aligned with relevant legislation and regulation, is essential to enable flexible service delivery. The Plan also includes three other action areas: building workforce capacity to meet the needs of priority populations; increasing cultural competency of oral health workforce and providing oral health competency training.

COVID-19 impact

The following consider the impact of COVID-19 on the Dental sector, primarily focusing on practice and accreditation and education. For further information please refer to government departments and industry bodies listed below under Links and resources.

The Australian Dental Association has developed a comprehensive suite of Resources for Dental Professionals, looking at the whole practice, including infection control and using personal protection and equipment (PPE) correctly and managing stock, HR support, practice resources and webinars for members. Links to information about financial support and mental health support are also available.

In response to COVID-19, the Australian Dental Council has compiled Information Regarding Dental Practitioner Assessments, including initial assessment applications, written examinations, practical examinations and application periods affected by COVID-19.

Links and resources

Below is a list of industry-relevant research, organisations and associations. Hyperlinks have been included where available.

 

Relevant research

CommBank Dental Insights Report: Understanding Patient Preferences to Drive Growth – Commonwealth Bank of Australia

COVID-19: Information Regarding Dental Practitioner Assessments – Australian Dental Council

Professionalism by Proxy: a Case for the Formal Regulation of Dental Assistants in Australia – A. C. L. Holden, G. Jean, M. Tennant and H. Spallek

Resources for Dental Professionals (COVID-19) – Australian Dental Association

South Australia’s Oral Health Plan 2019-2026 – SA Dental Service, SA Health

 

Government departments and agencies

ACT Health

Australian Government Department of Health

Northern Territory Government Department of Health

NSW Health

Queensland Health

SA Health

Tasmanian Government Department of Health

Victoria Government Department of Health and Human Services

Western Australia Government Department of Health

 

Peak and industry associations

Australian Dental and Oral Health Therapists’ Association (ADOHTA)

Australian Dental Association (ADA)

Australian Dental Prosthetists Association (ADPA)

Dental Assistants Professional Association (DAPA)

Dental Hygienists Association of Australia (DHAA)

Oral Health Professionals Association (OHPA)

 

Employee associations

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF)

Health Services Union (HSU)

United Workers Union

 

Regulators

Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC)

Australian Dental Council (ADC)

Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)

Dental Board of Australia

Health Care Complaints Entities in most jurisdictions

Data sources and notes

Department of Employment 2020, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • by ANZSIC 4 digit Dental Services industry, employment projections to May 2024
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2024
    • 4112 Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists
    • 4232 Dental Assistants.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, Employed persons by occupation unit group of main job (ANZSCO), Sex, State and Territory, August 1986 onwards 6291.0.55.003 - EQ08, viewed 1 August 2020 https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/DetailsPage/6291.0.55.003May%202020?OpenDocument

  • Employed total by ANZSCO 4 digit occupations, 2000 to 2020, May quarter
    • 4112 Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists
    • 4232 Dental Assistants.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, 2016 Census – employment, income and unpaid work, TableBuilder. Findings based on use of ABS TableBuilder data.

  • Employment level by 4 digit ANZSIC industries, and 4 digit level occupations (4112 Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists and 4232 Dental Assistants) to identify the distribution of the occupation across industries.

Training data has been extracted from the National VET Provider Collection, Total VET Students and Courses from the following training package or qualifications:

  • HLT – Health Training Package.
  • Advanced Diploma of Dental Prosthetics
    • HLT60402 – Advanced Diploma of Dental Prosthetics
    • HLT60407 - Advanced Diploma of Dental Prosthetics
    • HLT60412 - Advanced Diploma of Dental Prosthetics
    • HLT65015 - Advanced Diploma of Dental Prosthetics.
  • Certificate III and IV in Dental Assisting
    • HLT31802 - Certificate III in Dental Assisting
    • HLT31807 - Certificate III in Dental Assisting
    • HLT31812 - Certificate III in Dental Assisting
    • HLT35015 - Certificate III in Dental Assisting
    • HLT43007 - Certificate IV in Dental Assisting
    • HLT43012 - Certificate IV in Dental Assisting
    • HLT45015 - Certificate IV in Dental Assisting.
  • Certificate III in Dental Laboratory Assisting
    • HLT32707 - Certificate III in Dental Laboratory Assisting
    • HLT32712 - Certificate III in Dental Laboratory Assisting
    • HLT35115 - Certificate III in Dental Laboratory Assisting.
  • Diploma of Dental Technology
    • HLT50507 - Diploma of Dental Technology
    • HLT50512 - Diploma of Dental Technology
    • HLT55115 - Diploma of Dental Technology
    • HLT55118 - Diploma of Dental Technology.

This includes superseded qualifications and training packages.

Data covers a range of selected student and training characteristics in the following categories and years:

  • 2015 to 2019 program enrolments
  • 2015 to 2019 program completions.

Total VET students and courses data is reported for the calendar year. Program enrolments are the qualifications, courses and skill-sets in which students are enrolled in a given period. For students enrolled in multiple programs, all programs are counted. Program completion indicates that a student has completed a structured and integrated program of education or training. Location data uses student residence. Subject enrolment is registration of a student at a training delivery location for the purpose of undertaking a module, unit of competency or subject. For more information on the terms and definitions, please refer to the Total VET students and courses: terms and definitions document.

Low counts (less than 5) are not reported to protect client confidentiality.

Percentages are rounded to one decimal place. This can lead to situations where the total sum of proportions in a chart may not add up to exactly 100%.

HLT – Health Training Package apprentice and trainee data has been extracted from the National Apprentice and Trainee Collection, including:

  • 2010 to 2019 commencements
  • 2010 to 2019 completions
  • 2019 apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2019 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

Priority skills data have been extracted from the Dental IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast.

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2020, Labor Insight Real-time Labor Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2020, https://www.burning-glass.com.

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2017 and June 2020 filtered by ANZSIC and ANZSCO classification levels listed below.

ANZSCO occupations have been used as industry filters because they provide more relevant job vacancy data for this sector.

  • Generic skills / Occupations / Employers
    • 4112 Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists
    • 4232 Dental Assistants.
Updated: 25 Nov 2020
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