'Can't afford them': Everything to know about the dental hygienist, assistant shortage in Washington

There are more than 1,100 open dental assistant positions and 900 open hygienist positions in Washington state, with only about 200 qualified individuals actively seeking employment for each role, according to a report cited by The Herald.

The survey released in February by the state's dental hygienist and dental association found, on average, hygienist jobs are open for more than four months before being filled, and assistant positions are open for about three and a half months, reports The Herald.

"We are getting spread really thin; there is a lot of fatigue," said Amy Norman, DDS, who is trying to hire a dental assistant. Dr. Norman said she pays the travel costs of an assistant who commutes to work.

Shannon Cole, co-founder and staffing director of Arlington, Wash.-based Dental Temps Staffing Solutions, said she has more than 300 qualified temporary employees to deploy, but even still, there are 150 open positions that aren't covered.

"We can't fulfill more than half of our orders," Ms. Cole told The Herald. "If we filled all our orders, it would bring in $5 million a year."

About 1,600 temporary workers haven't returned after pandemic closures, citing safety concerns, kids to educate at home, taking another job or reaping unemployment benefits, Ms. Cole said. Dental Temps Staffing Solutions is offering signing bonuses and hazard pay in hopes of appealing to workers, but to no avail.

Lower wages or poor benefits may be keeping dental assistants away, said Cynthia Curtis, owner and instructor at Kenmore, Wash.-based Northshore Dental Assisting Academy. In a rigorous line of work, assistants want to be paid well or are opting for a less challenging profession, Ms. Curtis said.

Everett, Wash.-based All Smiles Northwest owner Michelle Steinhubel, DDS, said some young applicants expect pay typical of a 15- or 20-year veteran of the field, noting, "You sometimes have to let really qualified applicants go, because you literally can't afford them."

"With a very scarce supply, one of the only options employers have to get someone is to increase salary," said Bracken Killpack, executive director of the Washington State Dental Association. "It becomes unsustainable to pay the salaries that the market is commanding right now."

Copyright © 2022 Becker's Healthcare. All Rights Reserved. Privacy Policy. Cookie Policy. Linking and Reprinting Policy.

Featured Webinars

Featured Whitepapers

Featured Podcast