Creating a Task Force to Tackle Dental Workforce Challenges

By Andrew Smith, Executive Director, ADSO

More than one-third of surveyed dental practices are in the process of recruiting for dental hygienists or assistants, according to a recent study. This same study also found that one-third of dental assistants and/or hygienists expect to retire in five years or less. Taken together, these statistics indicate a challenging staffing environment for dental leaders that could have a significant impact on dental practice operations and patient health in the coming years as practitioners struggle to find workers. 

Ongoing causes for the workforce shortage

At a time when employees everywhere are seeking new jobs or careers or leaving the workforce entirely, the dental industry has proven no exception to the trend. Even as this has been ongoing, additional factors are making finding qualified dental talent increasingly difficult.

Challenges the industry currently faces include: 

  • Access to and cost of training programs: For many considering careers as dental hygienists and assistants, high costs of training and education are often a barrier to entry. Even when cost is not a prohibitive factor, prospects thinking about joining the dental workforce commonly encounter a lack of access to training programs. Offering sufficient opportunities for training at affordable costs must become a top priority across the industry. 
  • Regulations around education and licensing requirements: Dental workers such as hygienists or assistants frequently run into obstacles when attempting to work in other states. This has a limiting effect on the overall labor pool that must not be overlooked. Dental leaders need to work with regulators and legislators to create an open environment that facilitates the mobility of dental talent and labor. 
  • Flawed perceptions of dental careers as unviable: An all-too-common belief is that dental hygiene or assistant roles lack the compensation, benefits, work/life balance, and growth opportunities that make for a suitable long-term career. Dental leaders need to offer competitive compensation and benefits, cultivate positive workplace cultures, and provide ample opportunities for employees to grow their skills and move up within their organization. 

Leadership from the industry

Seeking ways to address the ongoing dental workforce challenges, the ADSO recently launched a Workforce Task Force, made up of ADSO member companies and dental industry partners. The task force will investigate issues impacting recruitment and retainment, sharing recommendations aimed at helping dental practices meet staffing needs. Issues the task force will consider include license portability, education funding, streamlined credentialing, and uniform standards for scope and education. 

This effort is only the beginning, and we hope other industry leaders will follow suit, joining us to lead from within our industry to identify opportunities and offer solutions.