How to Handle the Dental Staffing Crisis

July 29, 2021 Karen Axelton

COVID-19 isn’t the only challenge dental practices are facing. Dental offices nationwide are suffering from a severe worker shortage. “Hygienists and assistants are very hard to come by in every state I am in contact with,” says Brandi Hooker Evans, owner of dental consultancy Stellar Outcomes LLC. To find the employees you need despite the staffing crunch, it’s important to understand the causes of the problem.

Why is there a staffing crisis in dentistry?

According to a survey by the ADA Health Policy Institute, more than 35% of dentists are searching for dental assistants, more than 28% are seeking dental hygienists, and over 26% want to hire administrative staff. More than 80% of those dentists looking to hire dental hygienists and dental assistants, and over 70% of those seeking administrative staff, say recruiting for these roles is extremely or very challenging—a significant increase from before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has put new pressures on dental offices as well as their employees, which is part of the reason for the hiring crunch. One survey reports 9% of dental hygienists left the field due to the pandemic, with safety concerns a factor for 25% of them. Others were laid off during the pandemic due to lack of demand and have since found other jobs. Other dental hygienists, assistants and administrative staff have stay home with children whose schools have not fully opened for in-person instruction.

For dental employees who remain in their jobs, COVID-19 has created new challenges, such as additional safety and health precautions and the need to wear PPE in the office all day. As patients who delayed treatment during the pandemic return to the office, more complex infection prevention protocols mean more of a time crunch.

How to overcome the dental staffing shortage

Meeting your staffing needs may require some changes in how you operate your office and how you think about your employees.

Raise wages. It’s an employee’s market right now; as Evans puts it, some employees are willing to switch jobs for an extra dollar an hour. Most dentists seeking hygienists, assistants and administrative staff have increased pay for these roles, the HPI reports. Keep in mind that with a full staff, you’ll be better able to meet demand for treatment.

Create a place where people want to work. Dental offices can be stressful, so it’s vital to create a workplace culture where employees feel valued. Look for ways to help your staff balance work and their personal lives. Focus on building a culture where team members support, pitch in and care about each other. If your office is a place where people can find not just a job, but a satisfying career, you’ll be more successful in hiring.

Widen your net. You never know where you may find your next employee. Look beyond your typical hiring sources to friends and family members and social media contacts. Ask existing employees if they know anyone who might be a fit.

Even if you’re not actively hiring, keep your eyes open for potential candidates. If someone contacts your office to ask about job opportunities, have them fill out an application and send a résumé to keep on file. Get to know colleagues in networking organizations and social media networks, watching for people you’d love to have on your team. You never know when they may be open to changing jobs.

Be flexible. Offering part-time work or flexible hours for your staff can help job candidates manage childcare issues and improve their work-life balance. Today, many patients prefer early morning, evening or weekend appointments, so there’s no need for your office to be just 9 to 5.

Be willing to train employees. Consider lowering your requirements for prior work experience. Although hygienists must meet professional and state education, certification and licensing requirements, in some states dental assistants can be trained on the job. When it comes to administrative staff, it can sometimes be easier to train those who haven’t worked in a dental setting before and don’t have preconceived ideas about how to do things.

Take advantage of technology

Training a new employee with limited experience is easier when you use Lighthouse 360 software to automatically create a daily Front Desk Task List. Lighthouse 360 software automatically reviews all the patients on the following day’s schedule, looking for over 20 issues, such as outstanding payments or missing contact information. Team members just check the list to know what is needed for each patient.

Lighthouse 360 also reviews the prior day’s Front Desk Task List and generates an Automated Accountability Report of the day’s activity. This calls out both successes and areas for improvement and is an excellent tool for getting new employees up to speed.

Automating patient communications with Lighthouse 360 can also reduce or even eliminate the need for additional employees. Just ask Beth Nicole Damon, Office Manager/RDA at Hansen Family Dental in Pasco, Washington, who says using Lighthouse 360 is like having another employee on staff. Stacey Mitchell, Front Office Coordinator at Smiles By Rembos in Florida, describes Lighthouse 360 as “an assistant who’s not in my way.”

You can use Lighthouse 360 to send appointment confirmations, reminders, recall messages, and even patient reactivation messages by email, text or phone. Lighthouse 360 can also help you set up a Virtual Waiting Room for more efficient patient intake. New patients can fill out paperwork easily on their phones, eliminating the need for paper forms.

It’s more important than ever for practitioners to spend quality time with patients, Evans says. “You want to make patients feel comfortable and confident that they made a great choice in coming to your dental office,” she explains. On average, Lighthouse 360 users say it saves them 16.8 hours per week. That gives you more time to spend with your patients.






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