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Why Dental Staffing Has Forever Changed in the New Normal

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.

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6 Comments » for Why Dental Staffing Has Forever Changed in the New Normal
  1. Shamika Dunakhe says:

    I have been working as a manager in dental office for the last 2 years and have been in the dental industry for about 11 years. I have seen the industry go through a lot of change over the pandemic. Staffing changes have not been positive though. When businesses were closed, everyone in the country, not just dental staff, were left to fend for themselves. Government subsidies helped in those days. Post that, the whole temping culture has ruined the dental office operations. 1. It takes weeks to find a temp so we cannot accommodate more patients on short notice as described in the article. 2. The temps that come in do not care for providing best care in accordance to office policies 3. This usually ends up increasing work load for the permanent staff 4. Temp rates are way over the market average and dentists are left with no choice but to pay the outrageous ask specially when the whole business has suffered in pandemic and dentists themselves have suffered huge losses.
    These are a short list of issues offices face these days. I for one can’t wait to go back to the world where temping was occasional and rare. I have freedom to train the permanent staff, invest in their and the business growth Andy provide best dental care solutions to patients

  2. Anna says:

    I keep telling my daughter that if she doesn’t brush her teeth they will get ugly and the tooth fairy won’t bring her any money when they fall out because she only likes shiny clean teeth!!

  3. Jasmine M says:

    When I graduated as a Medical/ Dental Office Administrator, I never thought I would be where I am, and doing what I am doing now! Mostly because I have higher education degrees in some other unrelated fields.

    I may have just 5 years of dental experience, but was requested to do a lot of other stuff well beyond the boundaries of responsibilities of an admin. I had to assist the dentist when no assistant was available, or when the dentist didn’t want to hire a new assistant and pay her/ him. I learnt everything from scratch; the associate dentist I was working with did not care to at least properly train me as an assistant (since the practice owner wasn’t practicing at the location), but never stopped embarrassing me and even making me look bad in front of the patients when he wasn’t able or willing to do certain procedures. I was required to set up the operatories, assist the dentist and do the sterilization on my own, do general cleaning, and a lot more, in addition to booking appointments, billing, general correspondence with patients and insurance companies, just to mention some of the admin’s job requirements.

    Most of the time, I fell behind my admin duties, and had to stay after hours to make sure the dentist would not be paid later than when she wanted to be paid! I wasn’t, of course, paid for the extra hours.

    I would like to add something else, too. Since I am and have always been a perfectionist, I tried to train and educate myself by watching over 500 videos, and attending any related online seminar, webinar, zoom meeting I could. I did all this at my off-work time.

    After two years in the same dental office, more associate dentists were hired, some being specialists: an orthodontist and a few oral surgeons. Although they also hired two assistant, (after they worked for over 80 hours as their co-op college requirements_ that I arranged through their college) the dentists all said that they preferred me to assist them over the college trained ones we had, so I had to assist again, esp when there was a major surgery going on.

    All that was before the pandemic hit. Since the beginning of 2020, I have been working in a new practice after giving my previous practice a notice I would be quitting. Well, it’s worth mentioning that all the staff and dentists, including the practice owner, didn’t want to let me go and somehow apologized to me to put me under so much pressure without any compensation. But I didn’t stay because I couldn’t trust them any longer, since the account manager had cut my pay hours for his “new” policies without my consent.

    Guess what!!!

    Almost the same things are happening now too!!!!
    Don’t get me wrong. I love my job now. Even during the lock-down, I was never affected, because the practice owner said I was too essential to lose. But compensation?? Barely!

    When I read articles like this (yes I still continue educating myself and do a lot of reading on related subjects, in addition to online courses, webinars, trainings and youtube videos) I believe that the writers (mostly being dentists) never bother to consider the importance of faithful, experienced, and educated staff who are also counting on reaching stability in their career paths. Unfortunately, I believe, dentistry is the US and Canada (where I live) is more a business than a health service. Of course benefits speak first when you’re doing business, and health service comes second, if not third or fourth!

    In dental business, as any other business, you want to have happy clients and provide them with the best experience ever to guarantee they stay with you and even refer more patients to you.

    What about investing in the faithful, skilful, experienced, and knowledgeable staff members, who can also stay with you and bring in more patients?! Shouldn’t the practice owners keep them happy and make their work experience nice and pleasant? Because when it happens, it can give the members a sense of belonging and they will go above and beyond to make sure the business is flourishing. The reason? They want to stay and work in a pleasant environment and experience something wonderful every day. Thy want to be a part of a successful business they can be proud of. And positive energy attracts more clients, as all successful business owners and entrepreneurs know. Those few staff members who are also negative-minded, no matter what happens, will either quit, or force themselves to adapt themselves to the current positive atmosphere in the business.

    To put it in a nutshell, a dental office is NOT solely made of a practice owner dentist who can make his/ her own rules and expect all of them to be obeyed, at least not in Canada or the US. Staff members also contribute not only to the success of the dental business, but also to even the existence of it. So they should be highly valued, respected, and compensated to ensure the success of the business.

    Now the questions arise:
    Do temp staff care enough about the success of the business? Can a dental business owner expect temp staff to go above and beyond to make the clients’ dental experience a pleasant one? Can a dental business owner attribute “sense of belonging” to temp staff? The “sense of belonging” the business commitment with it. Can a dental business owner, in general, count on temp staff (who actually do count on a dental business owner and his/her your business)?

    • Linea Kirchner says:

      This is an excellent, thoughtful and articulate evaluation of very important considerations.
      Thank you Jasmine for taking the time to post. You will be an asset and success wherever you go.
      And eventually be compensated in a just and fair manner.

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