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There has been a country-wide dental staff shortage for many years. Hiring experienced, and personable receptionists and administrative personnel has been a challenge for as long as my 31 years as a dentist and practice owner. Then for the last 15 years, there has been a shortage of certified dental assistants. Recently, after the Covid hit at the beginning of 2020, the lack of quality hygienists has become an additional problem for dental clinics.

In dental healthcare, staffing shortages seriously affect the dental team’s ability to deliver quality care to patients.
The majority of the staff in a dental team are females. Generally, female workers work fewer hours per week as compared to their male counterparts. Additionally, women disproportionately shoulder more caregiving responsibilities that they are much more likely to work part-time than men. Among women, childcare as a reason for working part-time is being cited in a lot of cases. To make the situation worse is the COVID-19 pandemic that makes women are more likely than men to fall out of the workforce.

The Health Policy Institute (HPI) (American Dental Association) survey points to a voluntary reduction according to 59.1% of hygienists. Today’s RDH posted results of their COVID-19 survey revealing that 9% of hygienists left the field for the following reasons:

  • Retired early due to the pandemic (24%)
  • Did not feel safe working clinically “at this time” (21%)
  • Laid off or fired due to the pandemic (10%)
  • The employer did not provide PPE or a safe work environment (4%)
  • Needed to stay home with children (3%)

Pregnancies and the subsequent childcare responsibilities for infants and toddlers tend to interrupt their availabilities for joining the workforce.
The talented and ambitious administrative staff would likely seek other opportunities outside a dental clinic because of the lack of promotion prospects and challenges. In general, wages and benefits from dental clinics are also not as competitive compared to larger institutions and companies.

Yonge female certified dental assistants aspire to become registered dental hygienists who can provide better wages and more responsibilities. Some of them even decided to pursue other professionals, realizing that a career in dental health care was not for them after working in this field.
The availability of The Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB), Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, and the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit remove some of the incentives for the dental health care workers to work. The CRB replaced the initial $2,000-per-month Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) in September 2020.

To counter the issues facing dentists, we should address the issues with changes. We need to make sure our staff feel safe in the environment, with robust infection control and prevention policy in place and adequate supplies with PPE.

We need to improve our leadership skills and address other staff issues, including flexible working hours, ergonomic issues and recognition of the team’s hard work and contributions. We need to have an open channel of communications with our staff to ensure that the workload, work satisfaction, incentives, concerns and staff spirit are being addressed regularly
The shortage of PPE supplies was real at the beginning of the lockdown, but the scarcities have been eased a lot in the last few months. Dental clinics should adhere to and practice stringent Infection Prevention and Control protocols to ensure both the patients and team are safe and confident.

Dentists should support continuing education and training to team members to enhance their professional knowledge and skills. We can hire receptionists and administrative staff who have no previous experience in dental health care but have the desirable personalities and attitudes. As long as they are trainable and want to make it their profession, they can be valuable team members for years to come.

At Affinity Dental Care, I am thankful that I have a star team to deliver high-quality and timely dental treatments to my patients.

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