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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 2025. Dental Hygienist, Technician and Therapist roles are projected to experience incremental growth to reach a total of 8,900 by 2025.

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.

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.

Employment trends

Employment snapshot

Employment levels for Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists and Dental Assistants grew between 2000 and 2020, although growth has not been consistent. Employment projections indicate levels will remain largely stable. Employment levels for Dental Assistants have fluctuated between 2001 and 2021, but the overall trend shows growth from 15,300 in 2001 to 22,400 2021. Employment projections to 2025 indicate strong growth (to 36,400).

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

Program enrolments in Dental-related qualifications increased from approximately 6,980 in 2019 to 7,360 in 2020. Conversely, program completions continued to decrease, with more than 1,860 program completions in 2020, down from the approximate peak of 2,780 completions in 2016. More than two-thirds (68%) of enrolments in 2020 were at the certificate III level and nearly a quarter (24%) were at the certificate IV level. About 90% of program enrolments were in the Certificate III & IV 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 2020. Approximately 41% of the Advanced Diploma of Dental Prosthetics was delivered by TAFE institutes, with the remaining 60% delivered by universities.

Nearly two-thirds (64%) funding for Dental-related subjects was from government, with about a third (32%) from domestic fee for service, and 4% from international fee for service.

New South Wales had the highest proportion of students enrolled in Dental-related programs (30%) in 2020, followed by Victoria (24%) and Queensland (20%). More than a third (35%) of training was delivered in Queensland, closely followed by New South Wales (32%), and then Victoria (17%).

Overall, apprentice and trainee commencements and completions declined between 2012 and 2019, before a strong increase in 2020 to approximately 1,110 for commencements. Completions decreased between 2019 and 2020 to more than 480. The main intended occupation for apprentices and trainees in 2020 was Dental Assistant. Victoria reported the highest proportion of apprentices undertaking Dental-related apprenticeships (41%), followed by Queensland (20%) and New South Wales (18%).

For more data specific to your occupation, industry group or training package, visit NCVER’s Data Builder.

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 Skills Forecast – 2020 Update (hereafter the 2020 Annual Update) identified the top five short-to-medium term skills considered critical for the sector as technical job specific skills, communication, problem solving or critical thinking, teamwork and resilience or stress tolerance.

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 Government of Queensland, followed by the Pacific Smiles Group and the New South Wales Government.

COVID-19 has impacted the Dental sector, as well as the respective job roles in different ways (further information below). The other main challenges faced by the dental services workforce continue to be those reported in the Dental IRC’s 2019 Skills Forecast, which include advances in technology, access to a skilled workforce with practical experience and the lack of career progression. Further information about the impact of COVID-19 is below

Advances in technology

Technology continues to be a key area of focus in the skills required by dental assistants and dental technicians, according to 2020 Annual Update. Increased use of technology with new equipment and new practices requires a flexible workforce able to learn how to operate new equipment and adopt new procedures. Digital and computing skills are also required in day-to-day office administration and clerical roles and help to support the quality of service provided to patients. Restrictions on dental practices during the COVID-19 pandemic have also encouraged greater use of digital photography and tele-dentistry.

The impact of COVID-19 has generated the emergence of tele-dentistry options locally and internationally, including online screening, treatment planning and referral. Authors of Telehealth Coaching in Oral Healthcare argue Dental Assistants with a Certificate IV in Dental Assisting [Oral Health Promotion] can deliver appropriate guidance and support to patients for a low-cost base oral health coaching program via video or audio teleconferencing. As such, they suggest a cost-benefit analysis of a telehealth oral health coaching program, delivered by trained Dental Assistants, is warranted.

Staff shortages, especially in regional areas

The 2020 Annual Update reports some employers in the sector are experiencing difficulties in hiring appropriate staff due to a shortage of skilled workers, limited applicants and a lack of existing workers being skilled up. Access to a skilled workforce continues to be challenging, particularly in regional and rural areas. Evidence of this shortage in regional areas can be seen in that some dental services job roles are listed by the Australian Government as Skilled Occupations that would enable a person to migrate to Australia through the Regional Sponsor Migration Scheme, or as a temporary migrant provided the employment occurs in regional Australia. Job roles listed include dental prosthetist and dental technician.

The level of practical experience required in order to complete a qualification through a work placement may be difficult to achieve, particularly in regional and rural areas, where access to workplaces providing opportunities to apply skills and knowledge in a practical setting is limited. This may lead to using simulated experiences to build skills and knowledge, and then determining whether this is sufficient prior to completing a qualification and being able to undertake this work. However, the preference is for experience with live patients through the use of work placement opportunities.

Lack of career progression

According to the 2019 Skills Forecast, issues had 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 limit career progression within a single business. Continuing professional development is therefore critical to supporting the workforce in continuing their learning and careers while 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.

The 2020 Annual Update reports that the review of the Certificate III and Certificate IV in Dental Assisting aims to provide demarcation in skill levels between these qualifications to provide opportunities for further development by those interested in progressing to the higher qualification. Access to training that is linked to clear career pathways will be beneficial to ensure Dental Assistants and Technicians are provided with opportunities to enhance their skills and grow within the dental services sector.

Authors of the article Professionalism by Proxy: a Case for the Formal Regulation of Dental Assistants in Australia, highlight that while Dental Assistants are the most numerous member of the dental team in Australia they are not registered and regulated in the same manner as their clinical colleagues. In examination of events within the profession both in Australia and overseas, the authors argue it becomes apparent this is untenable with regards to promoting the safety of the public. Further, the authors argue that Dental Assistant may also be an essential division of the dental profession in providing cultural competent, economically viable and sustainable oral healthcare to communities that are difficult to access.

A study of Aboriginal Dental Assistants applying fluoride varnish in regional, rural and remote primary schools in New South Wales (NSW) found that Aboriginal Dental Assistants who are trained can safely and effectively apply fluoride varnish in a school setting with remote supervision. The study demonstrated the program can be scaled at the state level in NSW, indicating it could provide the basis for a nationally consistent program. As such, the Poche Centre as part of its scale-up planning for the Fluoride Varnish Program is examining the feasibility of including the apply fluoride varnish skillset in its existing Aboriginal Dental Assistant Scholarship Program.

COVID-19 impact

The 2020 Annual Update reports the recent COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the dental services sector significantly, with restrictions associated with lockdowns placed on dental procedures. Further, due to COVID-19 there has been increased scrutiny on infection control procedures in the dental services sector, with dental practitioners putting in place a range of procedures to minimise risk, such as sterilisation procedures and use of personal protective equipment.

Links and resources

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

IRC and skills forecasts

 

Relevant research

Aboriginal Dental Assistants can Safely Apply Fluoride Varnish in Regional, Rural and Remote Primary Schools in New South Wales, Australia – John Skinner, Yvonne Dimitropoulos, Angela Masoe, Albert Yaacoub, Roy Byun, Boe Ramabaldini, Vita Christie and Kylie Gwynne

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

Telehealth Coaching in Oral Healthcare – Dr Chris Bourke, Andrew McAuliffe, Dr Kavita Lobo, Dr Zoe Wainer

 

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 2021, Employment Projections, available from the Labour Market Information Portal

  • by ANZSIC 4 digit Dental Services industry, employment projections to May 2025
  • by ANZSCO, selected occupations, employment projections to May 2025
    • 4112 Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists
    • 4232 Dental Assistants.

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021, 6291.0.55.001 - EQ08 - Employed persons by Occupation unit group of main job (ANZSCO), Sex, State and Territory, August 1986 onwards, viewed 1 August 2021, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/labour/employment-and-unemployment/labour-force-australia-detailed/may-2021

  • Employed total by ANZSCO 4 digit ‘4112 Dental Hygienists, Technicians and Therapists’ and ‘4232 Dental Assistants’, 2001 to 2021, May Quarter.

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
    • HLT35021 – Certificate III in Dental Assisting
    • HLT43007 - Certificate IV in Dental Assisting
    • HLT43012 - Certificate IV in Dental Assisting
    • HLT45015 - Certificate IV in Dental Assisting
    • HLT45021 – 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:

  • 2016 to 2020 program enrolments
  • 2016 to 2020 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:

  • 2011 to 2020 commencements
  • 2011 to 2020 completions 
  • apprentices and trainees in-training October to December 2020 collection, by qualification and state and territory of data submitter.

                   

Job vacancy data have been extracted from Burning Glass Technologies 2021, Labor Insight Real-time Labor Market Information Tool, Burning Glass Technologies, Boston, viewed July 2021, https://www.burning-glass.com.

Data shown represent most requested generic skills, occupations and employers according to internet job postings in Australia between July 2018 and June 2021 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: 08 Nov 2021
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