December 22, 2021
by Dr. James Younger, TempStars
The ongoing global pandemic has drastically altered how many industries operate, and the dental industry is no different. Not only has COVID changed safety protocols within the industry and how dentists optimize their processes, but it has also changed how dental leaders approach building and retaining their teams. Dentistry has seen its fair share of turnover during the pandemic, and, as many leaders can attest to, the true cost of replacing positions can be a heavy one. As a result, dental temping has become more prominent, with owner dentists turning to temporary dental staff to try to ease the burden.
Dental leaders hired small teams for their practices in the past, and those teams remained intact for several years on end. In some cases, teams stayed the same until staff retired. However, in today’s landscape, working with temporary dental employees has become more commonplace. Not only has this given dental practices more flexibility as patient volumes return to pre-pandemic levels, but it has optimized productivity, allowing owner dentists, hygienists, and other seasoned staff to focus more on their tasks. How has COVID-19 led dental leaders in this direction?
What problems has COVID-19 presented dental leaders?
Earlier in the year, when patient volumes were still relatively low, and mainly emergency care was being provided, many dental practices faced the issue of overstaffing. Practice owners continued paying their team, despite the unpredictability of patient volumes, leaving them in a conundrum.
Diminishing patient appointment income forced owner dentists into a corner as they simply didn’t have the means available to keep paying their respective dental teams. Regardless of how hard their staff worked or how much team members wanted to stick around, a lack of money made it impossible to keep hygienists and assistants, many of whom were let go.
Though projected job growth is promising for hygienists, in particular, there are many of them and assistants who are left with few alternatives due to the financial constraints triggered by the pandemic. According to a survey from the American Dental Association, this past spring, close to 70 percent of dental practices indicated they’d remain closed or only be open for emergency services. As a result, they were unlikely to hire new staff, leaving many unemployed hygienists and assistants in the cold.
By the spring, when more dental practices fully opened for patient appointments, they simply didn’t have the staff to meet growing patient demand. While some owner dentists were fortunate enough to rehire their regular staff, many others have been scrambling for solutions, with dental temping being one of their go-to strategies.
What are dental practice owners doing to address staffing issues?
Some practice owners are struggling to see the kind of patient volume they saw pre-pandemic, as they struggle with income generation and the cost of replacing staff. As mentioned, only a few have been lucky enough to welcome back their previous, permanent staff as they look to get their practices back to ideal levels of productivity.
Dental temping is one way dental leaders are addressing the situation. Temporary dental staffers are being integrated into permanent teams, creating a more flexible staffing model for practices all-around. Adding this flexibility allows owner dentists to put together the ideal team size to address increasing patient appointments. Temp workers are paid for the exact hours they work, allowing dental leaders to reduce employment costs and improve their overall budgets.
With temporary registered dental hygienists and assistants, dental practices can take more last-minute patient appointments. They can step in when needed, allowing the permanent hygienists and assistants on board to tend to their already busy schedules. Practices can take more appointments with little notice and do so without compromising their quality of care. Considering the months of limited income that owner dentists have faced, dental temping is a good way to bridge the gap and accept mass appointment requests to make up for lost money.
Some dental leaders are also bringing in temporary specialists for complex one-off treatments that they don’t regularly provide. This helps leaders avoid recommending their patients to other dentists, leaving them in a quandary as they could lose those patients for good. Temp specialists offer agile solutions to dental leaders as they have people on their staff who can provide a specific service they don’t typically provide. This improves patient retention along the way.
Temporary dental staffers can be viable interim options for practices whenever permanent staff members are sick or have full schedules. They can fill in unforeseen gaps as they appear and have been proving to be beneficial since the start of the pandemic, providing added value and benefits for practices. In the new normal, dental temping is transforming the widespread approach to dental staffing for so many dental leaders in need.
About the Author
Dr. James Younger is a practising dentist, and the Founder & CEO of TempStars, Canada’s largest and #1 rated dental temping and hiring service. Since 2015, TempStars has grown to connect over 4,000 dental offices with a community of more than 12,000 dental hygienists and assistants for fast and easy temping solutions.