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Research highlights the impact of COVID-19 on hygienists

Feb. 23, 2022
Among recent findings gathered by the ADA and ADHA, some 3,300 dental hygienists who left their jobs during the pandemic don't intend to return to the profession.

Chances are, you may know someone who left the field of dental hygiene during the pandemic and hasn’t come back to it. That’s because fewer than half of dental hygienists who left employment early in the pandemic returned to the workforce in 2021.

That finding was one gathered from research conducted by the American Dental Association and American Dental Hygienists’ Association between September 2020 and August 2021 with a panel of almost 7,000 dental hygienists.

Published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene, the research also indicates that dental hygienists had a low rate of COVID-19 infection and a high rate of vaccination. As of August 2021, the cumulative infection rate among hygienists was 8.8%, compared with 11.7% among the general U.S. population.

Also as of August 2021, 75.4% of hygienists had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a higher percentage than health-care workers overall outside of dentistry at that time.

"Dental hygienists are infection control experts, so it's not surprising that RDHs have embraced vaccination and have experienced infection rates lower than health-care workers overall," said RDH chief editor Jackie Sanders, MBA, RDH.

Regarding RDH employment, a total of 1.6% of study participants no longer intended to work as dental hygienists, a possible reduction of 3,300 dental hygienists nationwide.

“Not unlike many other professions in the United States, challenges persist in dental hygienist employment,” said Rachel W. Morrissey, senior research analyst with the ADA Health Policy Institute, in an ADA news brief on the research. “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a voluntary reduction in the dental hygiene workforce and may persist, as some dental hygienists are choosing to permanently leave the profession.”

"After two years of the pandemic, many dental hygienists are feeling burned out, especially those who have pandemic-related stress in their personal lives," added Sanders. "But the staffing shortage has given many RDHs the opportunity to reevaluate their work homes and seek out something that aligns with their values."

Access the ADA news brief: Hygienist study reports low COVID-19 infection rate, high vaccination rate, slow return to work