238164760 © VectorMine | Dreamstime.com
will you choose a dental hygiene career as a temp or in a permanent position?

The realities of full-time dental hygiene: Weighing the benefits and drawbacks

May 21, 2024
Do you want a full-time position or do you want to temp? You can answer this important question by weighing the pros and cons of each.

Temporary and part-time dental hygiene jobs have become the new norm, so you might wonder if there are any advantages to a full-time position. Nearly 60% of hygienists believe there are. That’s the percentage of hygienists who work 32 or more hours per week, according to the 2024 Dental Salary Survey conducted by Dental Post.1 To decide what best suits your needs, consider the advantages and disadvantages of a full-time permanent job versus part-time or temporary work.

Pros of full-time employment

Established hours and pay: There’s security in knowing the amount of work you have each week is guaranteed and leads to a predictable income and low financial stress levels. You don’t have to worry about where your next shift will come from and whether you will be compensated adequately. In addition, you get paid for coming in early, working through or into lunch, and staying late.

One location: Working at the same place every day has its benefits. As a permanent hygienist, you can organize your operatory the way you like it. You can rearrange the equipment and furniture, bring your own instruments or supplies, keep your loupes at the office, or get a saddle chair or other ergonomic equipment to be comfortable. You csn also ask your employer to purchase the equipment or instruments that you prefer to use.

Sense of belonging: You have the opportunity to build long-term relationships with your coworkers. It’s wonderful to be part of a team and have a sense of camaraderie. You may even maintain friendships after your employment. I still keep in touch with dentists and hygienists I used to work with. Feeling valued as a key member of the team can lower stress and prevent burnout.

Continuity of care: When you work somewhere for a day, you can’t influence the outcome of periodontal therapy as much as when you provide treatment repeatedly. As a guest hygienist, you often see undiagnosed and untreated conditions that you cannot fully resolve. When you’re a full-time hygienist, you have more control over how you treat your patients, and you have the opportunity to monitor and contribute to their progress.

Benefits: Last but not least, as a full-time hygienist you’re eligible for benefits such as health insurance, free or discounted dental care, disability insurance, paid maternity leave, retirement plan employer contribution, vacation and holiday pay, paid sick days, free uniforms, continuing education, and bonuses. Depending on the practice, all or some of these benefits might be offered.

Cons of full-time practice

No flexibility: As a full-time hygienist, you have no flexibility regarding what days you work, the start and duration of your shifts, the length of your lunch break, or the length of your vacation. I once had a position where I worked five days a week and one of the days was from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., which was inconvenient. I accepted the position thinking a better schedule would become available, but that didn’t happen. I was stuck with that schedule for more than three years. Also, you will likely have little paid leave and you may have to plan six months ahead to get a vacation approved. Your work-life balance may suffer due to long hours and limited time off.

Lower pay: As a temporary hygienist, you can charge a higher rate than what permanent employees receive. This is to compensate for not receiving benefits, but it often goes beyond that depending on demand and market conditions. As a temporary hygienist working three days a week, I make the same net annual pay as when I was a full-time permanent hygienist. When you’re your own boss, you also have the opportunity to change your rate as you see fit; for instance, you can charge more for a last-minute shift or a high-demand period. As a permanent employee, you typically must wait for your annual review to ask for a raise.

No variety: Going to the same place day in and day out, using the same equipment, and following the same protocols may make you feel stuck. Depending on how progressive your practice is, you may not learn any new skills or use new products. Working at different offices leads to exposure to new software, equipment, instruments, protocols, and products. You keep your finger on the pulse of dentistry, and you experience a variety of practice environments.

Risk of burnout: It’s difficult to work nine-hour days while giving your best to patients, being compassionate, patient, understanding, reassuring, and joyful, all while staying professional and committed to excellence. Stressors such as short appointment times, difficult patients, and strict production goals, along with prolonged bad posture and repetitive movements, lead to fatigue, musculoskeletal disorders, and mental health issues. No wonder burnout is common in the dental field (30% reported burnout in a survey of dental hygienists in California in 2020),2 and the more hours a week you work, the more likely you are to experience it.

Workplace politics: One big thing you don’t have to worry about as a temp hygienist or part-timer is office drama. It doesn’t matter if the office manager doesn’t like you, if you have a disagreement with the doctor, if the assistant/doctor’s spouse is not packaging instruments, or if your coworker who is best friends with the office manager got her vacation request approved and you didn’t. None of that’s important when you work for only a day. You do your job, and you leave it all behind.

Now that you know the pros and cons of full-time hygiene work, determine your priorities and choose a work arrangement that is optimal and will bring you balance and happiness. And remember, we should work to live, not live to work.


References

  1. Dental Post 2024 Dental Salary Report. https://amplify360.com/hubfs/salarysurvey2024/ss2024-dentalhygienist.pdf
  2. Bercasio LV, Rowe DJ, Yansane A. Factors associated with burnout among dental hygienists in California. J Dent Hyg. 2020;94(6):40-48. https://jdh.adha.org/content/94/6/40

Anastassia Stoenelova, BA, RDH, has been in dentistry for 10 years. She is from Bulgaria and has been living and working in the United Stated for 20 years. She currently practices clinically in Atlanta, Georgia. As a former ESL instructor, she is passionate about oral health education and making a difference in her patients’ lives every day. She also works with Second Wind Dreams, a nonprofit organization that educates health-care professionals about dementia, and she is a personal recruiter for CUSP dental app. She can be reached at [email protected].