To the rescue!

Oct. 1, 2000
Throughout the country, temporary agencies are rescuing practices from the severe shortage of qualified hygienists.

Throughout the country, temporary agencies are rescuing practices from the severe shortage of qualified hygienists.

Joanne Iannone Sheehan, RDH

With the adventurous lives we lead today, chances are there`ll come a time when going to the office is impossible. Equestrian hygienists have riding accidents, while those who skydive are prone to - shall we say - mishaps. But even the more sedate among us can find themselves out of commission. There`s maternity leave, travel and vacations, or extended illness. Whatever the reason, temporary hygienists are in demand these days. Most offices maintain a list of hygienists to call, just in case of a scheduling emergency. But sometimes, these "rescuers" have found full-time jobs or have other plans for the day. Who do you call?

Dental temp agencies all over the country are succeeding for two reasons. One, life happens. Two, some hygienists are flexible and confident enough to walk into any new office and save the day. The compensation is usually better than part-time pay and there are no commitments to make. For the hygienist seeking a permanent situation, an up-close look at an office, staff, and doctor helps in making an informed decision about a possible future there.

Nitia Morris of Dental Auxiliary Service (DAS) in Dallas notes that many of the hygienists who apply to her company are looking for permanent placement.

"They want to try out offices on what we call a `working interview.` It can be for a week or three weeks, whatever the hygienist and doctor agree on at the start. This way, the hygienist can check out the chemistry and the personalities of the staff and doctors to see if the office is right before she makes a commitment," Morris explains.

Morris confirms that many apply to her agency due to personal situations like pregnancy. Temping offers an expectant hygienist steady work until the baby arrives, and greater flexibility afterwards.

Relocation issues also factor into the decision to work as a temporary. If a hygienist will only be in a certain location for a short time, temping is the perfect solution. Morris adds, "Some hygienists like to travel. You can`t do that with patients scheduled three months ahead. With temping, there is freedom. They`re not tied down."

The usual paperwork for applying at DAS is the application, which is sometimes waived with a current resume, two official forms of identification, and a valid hygiene license. Previous employers are contacted.

According to Morris, temps are paid a very competitive rate for the Dallas area - $30 per hour. The agency pays hygienists directly, freeing them from the chores of tracking self-employment taxes and filing quarterly returns with the IRS. Doctors prefer this approach as well - no government paperwork to file! Doctors pay a set fee per day to the agency; they also pay a placement fee should they retain the hygienist on a permanent basis. The applicant pays no fees.

Dental Auxiliary Service is a member of the Texas Dental Placement Network, a network of independently owned placement agencies throughout the state. Offices are in San Antonio (Dental Partners), Houston (Dental Assistance), Austin (Dental Resource Management), and Ft. Worth (Dental Directions). The network shares information on applicants, some of whom even commute from city to city.

A frequent lecturer at area schools, Morris has seen many changes in the 21 years she has owned DAS. The demand for hygienists has exploded, and new graduates have their pick of job offers. For many of them, temping is an increasingly attractive option.

Ms. Morris`s e-mail address is [email protected]. The Web site for Texas Dental Placement Network is This site includes information about each city, including phone numbers.

Dental Power, based in Rockville, Md., is a temporary and permanent placement service for dental professionals and practices nationwide. Jamie Understein and Meryl Baboyian founded the company in December 1974.

Ms. Baboyian was working as a dental assistant in an office in Bethesda, Md.. One afternoon, the hygienist called in sick. The doctor asked Baboyian to call all local placement agencies to try and secure the services of another hygienist. "I called several of the leading agencies," recalls Baboyian, "including one that specialized in medical placements. But none of them serviced the dental industry. So the dentist said, `Why don`t you start a placement service for dental personnel, Meryl?` And so I did!"

Dental Power operates in 16 metropolitan areas nationwide, with plans for expansion to several key areas next year. These locations will work in tandem with their new Web site, Created in April 2000, the site is an online staff placement network. Even where there are no physical offices, an applicant can contact Dental Power and schedule a lunchtime interview. "As we expand into new service areas, we see the need for traditional, in-office interviews with jobseekers fading," Ms. Understein states. "Once an e-mail notification comes into our national office that a new practice or professional seeks our help, we immediately contact them via e-mail, then follow up with a phone call to begin the relationship building process."

Payment depends upon geographic location. In some areas, the agency pays the hygienists; most, however, treat the service as a referral and have the doctors pay the temps at the end of the day. Other offices treat temps as employees and include them in their weekly payroll.

Ms. Understein and Ms. Baboyian pride themselves on the personal touch they give their clients. It`s not just finding a hygienist for an office - it`s matching skills, credentials, and job requirements with the right practice. All Dental Power offices have a placement coordinator available seven days a week, 24 hours a day for emergency temporary assignments.

Dental Power coordinators strive to build personal relationships with both dental practices and professionals.

"If a replacement hygienist is needed the next day, the practices know they can contact us anytime. We go to work right away to line up a temporary, and the dentist or office manager can rest easy."

The Dental Power Web site is

In sunny California, a company called Dental Fill-ins places hygienists and assistants from their San Francisco and San Diego offices. Dianne Reynolds, RDH, founded the company in 1976. According to the company`s CIO, Tom Ling, DDS, the demand for hygienists in this area is extremely high. "Our hygiene temps are paid $40 an hour," Mr. Ling relates, adding, "... we`re in the middle of a bidding war right now. It`s possible for a hygienist to make as much as $400 per day." There is one caveat, however: salaries are commensurate with the high cost of living in this area.

Dr. Ling attributes the shortage partially to the small number of hygienists graduating in the area. Five programs - one four year and four two-year programs - graduate an average of 85 to 100 students per year. The line is becoming more blurred regarding educational requirements. Ling states, "It used to be that a hygienist with a bachelor`s degree got paid top dollar. ... A hygienist with an associate`s degree is just as well paid now."

Despite the shortage of hygienists, Dr. Ling doesn`t see a trend towards preceptorship: "It`s highly unlikely that State Board of Dental Examiners will ever allow that. The dentists will do the scalings before that happens. As it is now, half of all the staff practicing hygiene are young dentists. They pick up a day or two practicing just hygiene to supplement their new practices."

Dental Fill-ins performs all payroll functions, including W-2 and W-4 forms. Temporary hygienists are essentially employed by the company which, according to Ling, works best for eveyone. You can learn more about Dental Fill-ins by going to

Barbara Sumner, owner of Assistance-On-Call, Inc., in Denver, Colo., started her agency 17 1U2 years ago. She has been in the dental field since 1974. This agency tracks quality personnel and retains them. Some hygienists have been with the company for as long as 10 years.

Assistance-On-Call, Inc., pays its own hygienists and does all the paperwork - unique for metropolitan Denver. Salaries are comparable to the standard rate for the area - about $28 to $32 per hour.

Sumner emphasises that licensing requirements in Colorado make relocating there attractive. As of 1991, licensure by credentials has been allowed. A Colorado license requires only that you have practiced for one year out of three immediately preceding the application, and that you have successfully completed the national boards. A licensed applicant need only take the Colorado jurisprudence test, which can be done by mail. The paperwork takes about a month; you can have your license before moving there. "Then," states Sumner, "all you have to do is contact us."

As in other areas, Colorado dentists make no distinction between those who have four years of education and those who have two year-degrees.

You can contact Ms. Sumner at [email protected] or visit their Web site at

"Monday, we placed 40 temps," said Pam Quinones, owner of Hygiene Associates, Inc., a full service dental employment referral agency for the Baltimore-D.C. area. Quinones, a hygienist, started the company in 1983 as a temporary agency for hygienists.

In the beginning, the biggest struggle was to convince clients to use the service. Quinones had to educate dentists on the benefits of an employment agency and then negotiate for a fair fee for the service.

"Currently, hygienists are making $250 to $320 a day . We are listing 100 permanent placements." Quinones also offers a resume writing service and employment workshops to her hygienists and other dental professionals.

"The challenge now is recruiting enough qualified applicants to fill the tremendous volume of temporary work orders. Many of our hygienists now look at temporary work as a career, not a temporary solution." Quinones told me.

From California to Texas, Maryland and Colorado, one thing is true: Temps are in demand. Agencies throughout the country are handsomely compensating top-notch hygienists who want to work and still have their freedom. If you are the type of person who is flexible and enjoys variety in the work place, temping may be your calling. You just might find the office of your dreams!

Joanne Iannone Sheehan, RDH, is a frequent contributor to RDH. She is based in Huntsville, AL.

From temp to Webmaster

If the town of Folsom, Calif. ever has a blackout, Linda Belaus` house will remain fully operational: She has a generator just to keep the computer going! Belaus, a hygienist for 32 years, wants to make a difference in the way dental professionals find jobs. Belaus started Staff Solutions, a "referral service" for dental personnel in 1983.

Belaus later put out a weekly newsletter dedicated to issues in the field. "I talked about what was new in dentistry, listed some job openings, and I put some C.E. course postings in there," she recalls. The newsletter attracted staff to the referral service and kept them informed.

The newsletter naturally evolved into a Web site. In February 1999, Belaus` hit cyberspace. At the same time, she phased out her referral service and went back to work as hygienist.

After a full day`s work, Belaus regularly puts in four hours at the computer, updating and improving the Web site. Among her listings are qualified candidates for every area of the dental office, from hygienists and assistants to lab technicians. Continuing education courses, dental career opportunities in foreign countries, and school links for California are included. Belaus also allows dentists to post their job listings on her site for free. They complete a form describing the position needs and post it where they know 400 candidates a week will look for dental openings.

Belaus doesn`t stop there. She pulls dental ads off every online paper in California and places them on her all-inclusive Web site. Dental personnel seeking job placement can post their resume on a "Job Seekers" page. When an office goes online, they can check the list. The ads are broken down by county - and it`s all free.

Nowadays, Belaus is updating a salary survey for California, including the dollar value of benefits paid to hygienists. She will also include licensure information. Dental professionals moving to California need only pull up to find out the California licensure requirements. Her long-term goal is to have the site list information for all states, not just California.

Belaus is currently working five days a week at a privately owned clinic. Recently, she was asked to list her site in Update, a publication of the California Dental Association. She has also recently been accepted as a Board Recorder for the California State Dental Hygiene Boards.

- Joanne Iannone Sheehan, RDH