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Difficulties recruiting for dental hygiene, assistant roles: Peak may be reached, but woes persist

April 4, 2022
While a recent poll of dentists shows a slight easing of hiring difficulties, the "reduction in the dental hygiene workforce is likely to persist at least until the pandemic passes." Learn more.

An ongoing poll of dentists indicates similar difficulties recruiting for hygienists and assistants as was indicated last summer. But the most recent results show that a peak in hiring woes may have been reached.

In August 2021, DentistryIQ reported that a poll taken by the American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute (HPI) indicated that some 32% of dentists were actively recruiting for dental hygienists, and 39% were looking to fill dental assistant roles. The most recent poll, taken in March 2022, showed recruitment of hygienists at 33% and for assistants at 38%.

In an email to DentistryIQ, Chelsea Fosse, DMD, MPH, Senior Health Policy Analyst, HPI noted that staffing issues remain “the most significant concern among dentists in early 2022,” causing an estimated 11% reduction in practice capacity.

“After reaching a peak in February, dental team recruitment needs eased up slightly in March. In March, roughly four in 10 indicated they were recruiting dental assistants and one-third were recruiting dental hygienists,” she added. The percentages of dentists recruiting for hygienist and assistant positions in February were 35% and 40%, respectively.

But dentists who are looking for help continue to have a hard time doing so: 92% of dentists recruiting dental hygienists indicate it has been “extremely” or “very” challenging, and nearly 86% indicate the same for recruiting dental assistants.

In both cases, the top reason chosen for what specifically has been challenging about recruiting hygienists and assistants is “not enough applicants.” Additionally, noted Fosse, applicants' wage and benefit requirements have been a challenge for some dentists.

While the March poll does indicate a slight easing of difficulties, Fosse said joint research conducted with the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA) from September 2020 to August 2021 indicated that the pandemic resulted in a voluntary reduction of the US dental hygiene workforce by about 3.75%, or roughly 7,500 dental hygienists.

“We predict this reduction in the dental hygiene workforce is likely to persist at least until the pandemic passes, as some dental hygienists are choosing to permanently leave the profession,” Fosse said.

Other results from recent polls include:

  • A majority of practices (67%) require patients to wear masks in the waiting area and more than 70% require staff to wear masks throughout the workday.
  • More than half (54%) of surveyed dentists indicate they’re prescribing more night guards for patients than before the pandemic to prevent teeth grinding when patients sleep.
Access ADA HPI’s Economic Outlook and Emerging Issues in Dentistry monthly poll for March 2022Access ADA HPI’s monthly polls