Understaffed and ready to hire, dentists face applicant shortages as they emerge from COVID-19 pandemic

HPI data show more than 80% of hiring dentists find hygienist, assistant recruitment extremely or very challenging     


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Rebecca De La Rosa, D.D.S., prided herself on having a tenured dental team.

But after losing two hygienists and an expanded-function assistant at the height of the pandemic — all of whom had been working for her for nearly 20 years — she has seen a limited number of job applicants and a revolving door of hires who have not lasted at her practice.

"Weeks pass without applicant submissions, and temporary staffing services have no availability," said Dr. De La Rosa, vice chair of the American Dental Association Council on Communications and owner of a dental practice in Avon, Indiana. "I have experienced interview no-shows and poor attendance from new hires. This reduction in staff in combination with COVID-19-related patient screening and slower operatory setup and teardown requirements has resulted in fewer patients being scheduled."

Dr. De La Rosa is not alone in the challenges she is facing as she attempts to fill open positions on her dental team — challenges the ADA is working to address.

A May poll from the ADA Health Policy Institute found 35.8% of owner dentists are recruiting dental assistants, 28.8% are seeking dental hygienists, 26.5% are looking to hire administrative staff and 13.1% are in search of associate dentists — all four percentages representing a rise in recruitment since October 2020.

To address the concerns of dentists and their team members, the ADA is working alongside its affiliate organizations, such as the American Dental Assistants Association and American Dental Hygienists' Association, to find outcomes that are mutually beneficial for the entire team, Dr. Ho said.

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