The dental profession is currently going through a significant drop in its practice capacity across the country, and the shortage of dental assistants and dental hygienists is a contributing factor.1 Due to the limited pool of qualified applicants and a highly competitive job market, it has become increasingly difficult to fill those much-needed positions. Approximately one-third of dental assistants and dental hygienists are expecting to retire within the next five years, which further exacerbates the issue.1
During the COVID-19 pandemic, safety and childcare concerns have prompted some dental hygienists to voluntarily leave the profession.1 Additionally, the pandemic led to a significant decrease in enrollment in dental hygiene and dental assisting programs.1 Negative workplace culture, inadequate compensation and health benefits, limited growth opportunities, lack of flexibility, and feeling overworked have frequently been cited as reasons for leaving the profession.1,2The Unites States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job growth for dental assistants will be about 11% from 2020 to 2030.3
To effectively address the allied dental professional shortage and ensure better access to care and improved oral health outcomes for the population, stakeholders must focus on recruitment and retention strategies, as well as legislative efforts. Key solutions to enhance retention include creating a supportive work environment that improves work-life balance, providing opportunities for career development and continuing education,4,5 offering flexible education options (especially in rural communities),4 and promoting a positive and inclusive workplace culture that boosts job satisfaction.1 Attracting and retaining allied dental health professionals can also be achieved by offering competitive salaries and comprehensive benefit packages, including health insurance and paid leave.1 Updating the scope of practice, revising the required training needs, and creating new pathways to licensure are important ways in which the legislature can play an important role in resolving staff shortages.6,7,8,9
In conclusion, the allied dental professional shortage represents a significant challenge for both the dental profession and overall oral health outcomes. By improving recruitment and retention strategies for skilled dental assistants and hygienists and engaging in effective legislative efforts, the dental profession can make a difference in filling this gap.
Anupama Grandhi, BDS, DDS
Dr. Anupama Grandhi is an Associate Professor in the Department of Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery at the School of Dentistry and Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology & Human Anatomy at the School of Medicine. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology and a Fellow of the American Academy of Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology. Her research interests include oral cancer and wellbeing.
- Dental Workforce Shortages: Data to Navigate Today’s Labor Market. https://www.ada.org/-/media/project/ada-organization/ada/ada-org/files/resources/research/hpi/dental_workforce_shortages_labor_market.pdf
- Sean Boynes, Hayam Megally, Don Clermont, Valerie Nieto, Helen Hawkey, Annaliese Cothron. The Financial and Policy Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on U.S. Dental Care Workers. San Antonio, TX: American Institute of Dental Public Health, October 2022.
- DANB Hosts Forum to Address Dental Assistant Workforce. https://www.adea.org/ADEA/Blogs/Bulletin_of_Dental_Education/DANB_Hosts_Forum_to_Address_Dental_Assistant_Workforce.html
- Hybrid Program Targets Shortage of Allied Dental Professionals. https://www.adea.org/ADEA/Blogs/Bulletin_of_Dental_Education/Hybrid_Program_Targets_Shortage_of_Allied_Dental_Professionals.html
- Oral Health in America: Advances and Challenges [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (US); 2021 Dec. Section 4, Oral Health Workforce, Education, Practice, and Integration. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK578298/
- CDA-sponsored legislation tackles California’s dental workforce shortages. https://www.cda.org/Home/News-and-Information/Newsroom/Article-Details/cda-sponsored-legislation-tackles-californias-dental-workforce-shortages
- California dental students advocate at state Capitol to address workforce shortages, protect patient access.https://www.cda.org/Home/News-and-Information/Newsroom/Article-Details/california-dental-students-advocate-at-state-capitol-to-address-workforce-shortages-protect-patient-access
- Goverment Relations Update https://cdaaweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/230706-Government-Relations-Update.pdf
- Variation in Dental Hygiene Scope of Practice by State. https://oralhealthworkforce.org/resources/variation-in-dental-hygiene-scope-of-practice-by-state/