Staffing could continue to be a thorn in dentistry's side

The dental workforce emerged as one of the biggest issues in the industry during 2023, and there doesn't seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel coming anytime soon.

Consulting firm McKinsey & Co. projects that the U.S. will be short more than 36,000 dental professionals by 2031. There is already a shortage of more than 10,000 dentists in the country, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration.

Dental practices that have been looking to fill dental hygienist and dental assistant positions have not found much luck recently, as only two-thirds of practices feel they have an adequate number of hygienists and assistants on staff, according to the American Dental Association. 

Recruiting has been very difficult for dentists trying to find hygienists and assistants, but there are some strategies that have fared better than others. Online recruitment websites and word of mouth are the only two methods by which owner dentists have experienced at least a 50% hire success rate, the ADA revealed in a recent poll.  

Some of the largest DSOs in the U.S. have also struggled with the lack of staff. Executives are expecting the industry to continue to face challenges related to labor and the workforce.  

"The labor market continues to be one of the most significant challenges DSOs face today," said Chris Villanueva, DMD, founder and CEO of MB2 Dental. "Hiring is more difficult than ever, and having the resources and support team dedicated to hiring is critical."

"The vacancy rate and, frankly, finding people who are capable of doing the role can be a real distraction for the practices," said Mike Friguletto, CEO of Beacon Oral Specialists. "We are a people organization, and it's all about people in the office delivering care, so you've got to have the right ones."

"One of the major challenges is recruiting doctors and hygienists in high-growth markets, particularly as the demand for services accelerates," said Mark Greenstein, chief growth officer of Heartland Dental.

Many individuals that are already part of the workforce are considering applying for new jobs for 2025, which would create an even larger gap. Fifty-seven percent of associate dentists, 56% of dental assistants and 11% of dental hygienists are weighing their odds of finding a new job by 2025.

With a decent chunk of the already-limited workforce potentially leaving for other jobs, staffing and labor will likely continue to plague dentistry throughout 2024 despite efforts from dental practices and DSOs. 

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