What will 2024 hold for staffing shortages? 6 dentists weigh in

Workforce shortages in the dental industry were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, leading some practices to struggle with patient care and financial stability. 

Six dentists recently spoke with Becker's about how staffing shortages are affecting practices and what they expect to see next year. 

Editor's note: These responses were lightly edited for clarity and length.

Louis Cooper, DDS. Pediatric Dentist and Founder of OralHealthforkids.com: I sold my second pediatric dental group two years ago and presently am not working in a brick-and-mortar office to assess present-day staffing challenges. In my experience, however, staffing has always been problematic and an obstacle to productivity. I do believe things will not get much better. COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation, producing changes in career goals for many. In my opinion, the three suggestions that are key to alleviating the shortages are better salaries, benefits and a positive working environment.

Jon Copeland, DDS. Copeland Dental Group (Wildwood, Mo.): Currently, we are fully staffed. That took a long time to occur. Since COVID-19, we had vacancies in the front office, assisting and hygiene positions that all took time to find the right people. I think staff shortages will continue, especially in hygiene for the next several years without much improvement as there has been minimal increase in schools increasing enrollment to produce new hygienists. We use two different companies that remote in for insurance verification and to reactivate and schedule appointments. We have found that to be most useful.

Justin Harlow, DDS. President of Harlow Dental Group (Charlotte, N.C.): We've been fortunate to be at full staffing levels in all departments in our practices, but staff shortages in the industry at large have created a competitive market for employee retention. We've had to get creative in our benefits packages to add to wage compensation, including adding paid holidays, uniform allowances and continuing education to help retain staff. Overall, I do not believe practices will return to the ease of pre-pandemic staffing levels anytime soon and practices will continue to see tightening in the clinical and operational support staff market in 2024.  

Mark Levy, DDS. Sleep Better Columbus (Ohio): My practice is limited to dental sleep medicine. We have solved the dental staffing shortage by hiring medical personnel. There seem to be many more available and searching for a position than dental personnel at the moment. This has worked well for me since the beginning of COVID-19 in 2020.

Glenn Maron, DDS. Peachtree Dunwoody Oral and Facial Surgery (Atlanta and Sandy Springs, Ga.): The shortages throughout medicine and dentistry are affecting all of us. Our practice has been working short-handed for several months and the stress it puts on other employees is palpable. The goal is to continue to provide the best possible care for patients, so we are currently functioning like ducks in a pond. We look calm on the surface but are paddling like crazy under the water. Unfortunately, I think that the shortages will continue in 2024 and this will make it very important to work with current staff to make sure they are happy and don’t want to leave for greener pastures. The creation of more assisting programs throughout the country that truly train the assistants so that they are ready to join a team and be productive staff members [will also help alleviate shortages.]

Robert Trager, DDS. Dentist at JFK Airport (New York City): Staffing shortages are not currently affecting my business since I am not that busy. Unfortunately, in 2024, there will still be many staffing shortages, whether it be with dental assistants or dental hygienists. What I have recently done in the past year is have my wife run the office since she was a former flight attendant and reservation agent, which exemplifies people skills. I have also contacted retired dental hygienists and dental assistants to work one or two days a week. Why do so many hospitals have no problem getting volunteers?

I also suggest putting up small index cards or flyers and posting them on bulletin boards at supermarkets, barbershops, beauty salons, banks, post offices or any retail place that allows for advertising. You would be surprised as to how many people who are semi-retired, retired, disabled or veterans who may want to volunteer and/or supplement their income. Another suggestion would be if someone in the clergy from the religious institutions in your office area could announce during services if anyone would like to volunteer and or supplement their income with a part-time position. The important thing to remember about all of these suggestions is that there are no fees involved.

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