The Great Resignation has reached dentistry — especially as hygienists choose not to return to the profession. In fact, a study co-authored by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and the American Dental Association found that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a contraction of about 3.75% of all hygienists, representing a loss of approximately 7,500 hygienists nationwide.
The result is a scramble for qualified staff. The ADA’s Health Policy Institute reported that as of July, 74% of private practice dentists say that it is now “extremely challenging” to recruit qualified dental hygienists, and another 19% say it is “very challenging.” Similarly, 84% of dentists say it is extremely or very challenging to recruit dental assistants.
That’s why it’s essential that owner dentists take steps to retain their most valuable resource: long-tenured, knowledgeable staff who have built trust with patients.
Why hygienists are leaving the workforce
When dental practices closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many staff were sent home. Even as practices began reopening, many of the 98% of practicing dental hygienists who are female found themselves juggling childcare challenges. Dental work has no “remote” option, and dental schedules inherently lack the flexibility to pivot when a child has to stay home unexpectedly due to a COVID exposure.
As a result, many hygienists began to exit the profession entirely. An August 2021 study found that 74% of hygienists not working had left the profession for voluntary reasons. Of those, 37% say they decided to retire.
Some of the remaining hygienists are leveraging the shortage to find jobs closer to home or negotiate for greater flexibility, higher pay, or better benefits. As of June 2022, 79.9% of practice owners had raised pay for their dental hygienists within the past year — with 18.1% reporting increasing wages by 10% or more.