The staffing shortage in dentistry that began in 2022 is still troubling practices around the United States. The factors that lead to the shortage, such as declining enrollment in dental hygiene programs, began building before the coronavirus pandemic. But the pandemic brought many big changes in the labor market and the dental industry that caused even more hygienists to leave the industry or change jobs. Many left due to childcare challenges or concerns about exposure to the virus.
Did you get a raise this year? Let us know in the poll below!
Even national media took note of the RDH shortage because many patients were finding they couldn’t get in for a dental hygiene appointment. Dr. Joann Gurenlian of the ADHA said in a September 2022 interview with NPR that many hygienists didn’t leave just because of pandemic concerns, but also because they felt disrespected: “There was concern about lack of respect in their workplace setting. They were having to clock out if a patient canceled their appointment. They felt that they just weren't appreciated, and there were some that were thinking maybe it was time for them to leave.”1
Hygienists who did not leave dentistry benefitted by being able to request raises, some of them for the first time in many years. Others left jobs they did not enjoy, while others decided simply to work at the office where they could get paid the most.
While staffing was always important to dental practices, it has become an essential metric for measuring the health of the practice. For example, the American Dental Association Health Policy Institute now tracks the difficulty practices have in filling positions.
The editorial team at Dental Economics, a sister publication of RDH magazine (and DentistryIQ), also included questions about hourly rates in its recent 2023 Fee and Staffing Survey, shared here with our readers at RDH.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics 2022 median pay (or 50th percentile) for dental hygienists was $39.14 per hour.2 Our numbers, collected in mid 2023, are all above $40.00, indicating that salaries have risen, even in typically lower paying areas, such as the Midwest and South. The national median pay our respondents reported was $43.00, a 9.9% increase.
Sixty-nine percent of respondents found it difficult to fill dental hygienist positions, indicating a job market that remains very competitive.
What about you?
Were you offered, or able to negotiate, a salary increase with your employer this year? Let us know in the poll below! And make sure to check out the table to see if your own pay is in line with others' in your area.
Interested in the details of our Fee and Staffing Survey? Access the full report.
- LeMoult C. A dental hygienist shortage has dentist offices struggling to schedule patients. NPR. September 12, 2022. https://www.npr.org/2022/09/12/ 1122482181/a-dental-hygienist-shortage-has-dentist-offices-struggling-to-schedule-patients
- US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Dental Hygienists. Accessed November 28, 2023. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm