8% of dental hygienists have left job since pandemic began, despite low rate of COVID-19

Despite a "high-risk" designation for COVID-19 by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, only 3.1 percent of dental hygienists have had COVID-19, based on data collected in October and published by The Journal of Dental Hygiene.

The findings are the first from ongoing, joint research by the American Dental Hygienists' Association and the American Dental Association. The data reflect results as of Oct. 8 from the first month of a study of 4,776 dental hygienists across all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Overall, 149 respondents (3.1 percent) reported ever being diagnosed with COVID-19.

A second study examined employment rates of dental hygienists, finding that 8 percent of dental hygienists had left the workforce since the pandemic began. Of this group, nearly 60 percent left voluntarily, citing reasons such as overall pandemic concerns, safety concerns and child care issues.

"While one-quarter of the 8 percent of dental hygienists who left the workforce were laid off due to early dental office closures, others were faced with tough decisions around whether or not they could continue to work in a setting that requires direct patient care," said JoAnn Gurenlian, PhD, a lead author of the research and the chair of ADHA's Task Force on Return to Work. "The good news is, the infection rate data shows that dental hygiene care can be delivered safely. And, with vaccine availability, we may see more opportunities for dental hygienists to return to practice."

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