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Troubleshooter: Dentists want hygienist to retire. She’s not ready.

Dec. 10, 2020
Due to the pandemic, these dentists took on more restorative and less hygiene. They keep asking their longtime hygienist when she's retiring. She has no plans to retire and doesn't appreciate the pressure. What can she do?

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QUESTION: I have been with this office for 36 years. We’ve been through many ups and downs through the years, but the pandemic presented a new situation for me. Since restorative dentistry has declined so much, the dentists are doing a huge number of preventive visits; as such, there are fewer hygiene department appointments now. In discussing how we're going to move forward, the dentists have repeatedly asked if I'm going to retire. I’ve never said I plan to retire, nor do I want to retire. A new hygienist was hired at the beginning of the year before the pandemic, and she is great on many levels. I asked if they are having any issues with the quality of my care and they assured me that they are not. The fact that they have repeatedly brought up my retirement and not equally wanted to decrease our scheduling doesn’t seem fair to me. Any suggestions for a loyal, dedicated, still-loving-my profession hygienist? Thank you.

ANSWER FROM BROOKE CROUCH, RDH, public health hygienist and outreach advocate:
Hello fellow hygienist and thank you for your question. This is certainly a difficult position to be in. This pandemic has brought about personal and professional challenges that many of us could never have imagined facing. While there are hygienists who are choosing to retire earlier than they had planned, there are many who, like yourself, want to continue to practice and adjust to the “new normal” of dental care. Your years of experience puts you in a very valuable position to your doctors, patients, and the new hire. It is unfortunate to hear that you are feeling pressure to leave a profession that you love.

As you mentioned, many practices are seeing a decline in restorative treatment, and many dentists are choosing to take hygiene appointments on themselves. I would imagine each practice’s response to the pandemic has been different and the choice for the doctors to take on more hygiene may be influenced by a myriad of factors. That being said, I appreciate that it is a frustrating position to find yourself in. As hygienists, we know our patients and traditionally, our role is to provide preventive treatment for them. I bet it’s very difficult to be in a practice where you’re not able to provide the care you have for the past 30-plus years and not feel valued. This is something many hygienists are feeling, and I appreciate your bravery in bringing this to our attention so that we can have the conversation. 

My advice is to know your worth! Your years of experience and dedication to our profession is invaluable. As a health-care provider during the pandemic, you put yourself at risk to provide the necessary preventive care your patients need that will contribute to a decreased risk of a dental emergency. You are doing this because it’s what you have done for the past three decades; it is evident you care for your patients and their oral health and want to remain an active player in their care. I believe it is worth asking your doctors if you can take some time with them to discuss your concerns and how you’re feeling. Open, honest communication is key to a successful professional relationship, especially during these challenging times.

However, if you feel as if your office still cannot see the value in what you offer, it might be time to look for a place that does. Many practices are finding themselves short on staffing and would welcome you. Or, perhaps you want to look at alternatives, such as mobile dentistry or public health options in your state. Have you ever thought about working in the clinic setting for a dental hygiene program? Your clinical experience would be such an asset to the students and in shaping the profession you love. I know many hygienists who have had to make very difficult decisions lately. Know you are not alone. There are other options out there for you beyond the traditional private practice setting if you are willing to explore them. Our profession is thankful for you and your dedication to dental hygiene and patient care!

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Originally published in in 2020 and updated regularly.

About the Author

Team Troubleshooter

This weekly column on DentistryIQ features questions from everyday people who work in dental practices, who have issues they would like addressed by the experts. Those who regularly take the time to answer questions include Rebecca Boartfield, Patti DiGangi, Dr. Chris Salierno, Laura Hatch, Karen Daw, Jill Townsend, Lisa Marie Spradley, Shelley Renee, Judy Kay Mausolf, Robin Morrison, Paul Edwards ... and the list is growing.

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