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US Senate confronts dental staffing crisis

June 21, 2024
Recently underscored by high-level discussions in the US Senate, the dental industry is experiencing a steep decline in service accessibility and quality, due in large part to staffing shortages. The authors provide a comprehensive approach to addressing the staffing crisis by focusing on recruitment, retention, education, and inclusivity.

The dental industry is facing a critical staffing crisis that threatens the accessibility and quality of oral health care nationwide. Recently US Senate leaders met to discuss the detrimental impact this crisis has on millions of Americans.1 To tackle these pressing issues, innovative strategies are being implemented across various fronts. From leveraging new technologies to streamline recruitment and enhancing license portability through the Dental Compact, to developing robust employee retention strategies and supporting educational programs for future professionals, the industry is mobilizing comprehensive solutions. Moreover, there is a movement to revamp the office experience to appeal to minority professionals, creating a workforce that is more diverse and inclusive. These multifaceted efforts are essential for overcoming current challenges and ensuring the long-term sustainability of dental care services. 

The dental staffing crisis

As the dental industry contends with a critical staffing deficit, its challenges are compounded by multiple factors. A scarcity of dental professionals, particularly hygienists and assistants, has become pervasive, with a staggering 95% of dentists encountering considerable difficulties in recruiting hygienists and over 87% facing challenges in hiring assistants.2 An aging workforce, coupled with a decline in enrollment in degreed dental programs, adds to the complexity of the issue. Moreover, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in the loss of approximately 8% of the dental workforce,3 continues to strain an already tenuous situation. These shortages not only impede practice efficiency and profitability, but also have far-reaching implications for patient care, potentially widening health disparities. These converging elements paint a stark picture of the declining state of the dental industry, necessitating innovative strategies to address the pressing staffing crisis.

New technologies for recruitment

The dental industry is increasingly turning to innovative technologies to streamline the recruitment process. Technology-driven online “talent marketplaces” offer a solution to the dental staffing shortage by efficiently matching dental practices with highly qualified, vetted staff, reducing administrative burdens and enhancing long-term efficiency and profitability. These platforms serve as valuable tools in addressing staffing challenges and optimizing dental office operations.

License portability through The Dental Compact

The Dentist and Dental Hygienist Compact is a crucial initiative aimed at reducing barriers to practice across state lines.4 By facilitating license portability, this compact allows dental professionals to move freely between states, addressing regional shortages and improving workforce mobility. This initiative fills gaps where dental professionals are scarce and enhances career flexibility and opportunities for dental practitioners.

Robust employee retention strategies

Retention of dental staff is as critical as recruitment. Time-tested strategies cannot be overlooked, including offering competitive salaries and benefits, providing opportunities for professional growth, and fostering a supportive and inclusive work environment. Implementing mentorship programs and ensuring work-life balance can also significantly reduce turnover rates. Regular feedback and recognition can help staff feel valued and engaged, contributing to higher job satisfaction and long-term retention.

Investing in education

Investing in dental education is essential for building a robust future workforce. Partnerships between dental practices and educational institutions can provide students with hands-on experience and mentorship opportunities. Scholarships and grants can make dental education more accessible, encouraging more students to enter the field. Supporting continuing education for current professionals ensures that the workforce remains skilled and up to date with the latest advancements in dental care.

Revamping the office experience

Creating a welcoming and inclusive office environment is key to attracting minority professionals. This can involve making mentors available, ensuring representation in leadership positions, and fostering a culture of respect and fairness. Offering flexible work schedules can also make dental practices more appealing to minority candidates. And advocating for the office as a space that values diverse perspectives can improve both the workplace atmosphere and the quality of patient care.

Importantly, more than 56 million Americans reside in areas with a shortage of dental professionals, and over 68 million adults lack dental insurance, creating substantial barriers to accessing care.5 Marginalized populations are disproportionately affected by these shortages, exacerbating existing disparities in oral health outcomes. A diverse dental workforce is necessary to better understand and respond to the unique cultural and socioeconomic needs of these communities, fostering trust and improving patient engagement.


As the Senate deliberates on the urgent dental crisis, it's clear that addressing the dental staffing crisis requires a multilayered approach. These efforts are critical not only for mitigating the immediate impacts of staffing shortages but also for ensuring the long-term sustainability and equity of dental care services. It is imperative that policymakers, dental professionals, and public health stakeholders collaborate to implement these strategies and initiatives. By doing so, we can bridge the gaps in dental care, reduce healthcare disparities, and enhance the overall well-being of communities across the nation.


  1. Sanders to lead HELP committee in hearing on dental crisis in America. US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions. May 14, 2024. https://www.help.senate.gov/chair/newsroom/press/news-sanders-to-lead-help-committee-in-hearing-on-dental-crisis-in-america
  2. Economic outlook and emerging issues in dentistry: insights from data from November 2023. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. https://www.ada.org/-/media/project/ada-organization/ada/ada-org/files/resources/research/hpi/nov2023_hpi_economic_outlook_dentistry_slides.pdf
  3. Dental workforce shortages: data to navigate today’s labor market. American Dental Association Health Policy Institute. October 2022. https://www.ada.org/-/media/project/ada-organization/ada/ada-org/files/resources/research/hpi/dental_workforce_shortages_labor_market.pdf
  4. Dentist and Dental Hygienist Compact. The Council of State Governments. https://ddhcompact.org/
  5. State of oral health equity in America. CareQuest Institute for Oral Health. https://www.carequest.org/content/state-oral-health-equity-america-2023
About the Author

Ed Thomas and Cary Gahm, cofounders and CEOs of GoTu

Ed Thomas and Cary Gahm are cofounders and CEOs of GoTu, a pioneering, technology-driven workforce solution and skill-sharing marketplace serving the dental industry. Founded in 2019, the platform allows dental offices to contract directly with registered dental hygienists, dental assistants, and associate dentists to fill both short-term and permanent positions. To date, GoTu has connected more than 25,000 dental offices with over 45,000 dental professionals.