Why Dental Hygienists Are In Short Supply (And What To Do About It)
COVID-19 has had lingering impact on the dental industry. Dental practices’ ability to take on more patients while maintaining the same level of quality patient care is limited as they struggle to find and replace staff.
While trying to fill administrative and assistant jobs has become the norm in most dental practices across the US, the need for experienced registered dental hygienists (RDH) has surpassed the need for other positions.
The Dental Hygienist Hiring Dilemma
The role of a registered dental hygienist is vital to preventative oral care and promoting patients’ oral health. Despite the value they add, dentists have, in more recent years, struggled to attract and hire them.
Data from a poll conducted by the ADA Health Policy Institute revealed that post the COVID-19 pandemic, 35% of dentists are or have been trying to fill dental hygienist positions. According to the ADA and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, the COVID-19 pandemic caused a wave of voluntary resignations, with dental hygienists making up 3.75% (or 7,500) of the dental staff who willingly resigned.
The latest ADA Health Policy Institute survey in July of 2022 found that 36.1% of dental practitioners are recruiting hygienists, 39.7% are recruiting dental assistants, and 28.7% are recruiting administrative staff.
In an updated study on US dental hygienists’ employment patterns and their attitudes towards returning to work, 1.6% of participants indicated that they had retired or no longer wanted to work as dental hygienists. Other reasons for leaving included insufficient childcare, safety concerns during and after the pandemic, and having an underlying health condition. The report findings indicate that this could represent a permanent reduction in the workforce of nearly 3,300 RDHs.
To help ease these hiring challenges and ensure that American patients have ongoing access to adequate oral health care, the American Dental Association (ADA) has asked lawmakers to increase the public funding for the Oral Health Workforce Development Program.
This program identifies Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSA) and offers state funds to develop and implement innovative programs that address the dental workforce’s needs.
3 Proactive Approaches to Fill RDH Vacancies
Although the current labor situation seems dire, there are proactive measures you can put in place that can assist you in filling RDH vacancies.
1. Review Compensation Packages And Offer Bonuses
According to our recent Dental Job Satisfaction Survey findings, the top reason for RDHs seeking new work opportunities was wanting higher pay.
Are you offering RDH candidates a competitive salary? Review the Dental Hygienist 2022 Salary Survey Report to see how your practice compares. The report shows the average and median income ranges for dental hygienists by state. Matching or bettering wages can help prevent ideal candidates from going elsewhere.
With the high demand for dental professionals, wages have been rising, making it challenging for dental practices to remain competitive. DentalPost’s 2023 salary survey results will be posted in early January 2023. The upside of rising wages is that more people will view a dental career positively. As soon as Dental Hygiene, Dental Assisting, and Dental Practice Administration programs can accommodate them, we predict more dental professionals will be in training.
Signing bonuses and benefits are another way to sweeten the deal. A signing bonus is paid out to the successful candidate after their probationary period and is an excellent application incentive.
2. Know Your Dental Team’s Work Satisfaction Score
Our recent Dental Job Satisfaction Survey findings showed that the average RDH’s job satisfaction rating was 2.9 out of 5. Multiple factors contribute to job happiness like adequate compensation, effective patient care, paid leave, and exciting professional growth opportunities. These (and more) can energize and motivate dental team members to stay and do their best work.
As revealed in our survey, RDHs desire more appreciation in the workplace. Showing regular appreciation to staff may not come naturally to you, but it’s well worth the effort.
- Stay interviews. To gauge the satisfaction levels of your existing team, consider doing regular “stay interviews” to find out what they enjoy about their jobs and what would increase their satisfaction levels.
- Staff retention bonuses. If you’ve never thought about it before, now may also be the time to offer your staff retention bonuses. Especially if you have a sought-after RDH on your team who you don’t wish to lose. Bonuses (whether big or small) are one way to show your staff that their contribution to your dental practice does not go unnoticed and that you consider them a valuable asset to your team.
3. Allow For More Flexibility
The COVID-19 pandemic has established that increased workplace flexibility can increase staff satisfaction while maintaining work effectiveness. Offering less rigid work hours to an RDH struggling to juggle childcare support with a full-time job could be the carrot on the end of the stick needed for them to consider working for you.
Job-sharing is another incentive that may entice hygienists to come out of the woodwork. Two part-timers can share the responsibilities of a full-time RDH to allow for more flexibility.