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What happened to all the dental staff?

Written by

Amanda Hill

Written On

September 15, 2021

Hang out with any dental people, and the topic is sure to turn to staffing.  It’s hard right now.  Many practice owners are asking where have all the applicants gone?  Offices need hygienists, assistants, and front office people, but are hearing crickets when it comes to their job advertisements.  We are seeing crazy signing bonuses or inflated hourly wages and still nothing.  So what’s happening?

Many theories are floating out there. Is it unemployment benefits, childcare issues, fear of Covid? I’m sure there’s a measure of truth to each one in certain situations.  But the story I hear the most from those exiting the dental industry is they are tired of feeling disposable.


Yes, disposable, insignificant, replaceable, disrespected are all words I’m seeing and hearing from my dental colleagues.  This dissatisfaction has been long brewing, but Covid was the breaking point.

Offices closed, and many dental team members said they hadn’t heard from their boss for weeks or months.  Some were let go. Others were given a day’s notice to get back into the office.  None of it felt professional, and it definitely felt hurtful.

While dental folks were being told they were non-essential, their friends and neighbors that worked for banks, grocery stores, or corporate jobs could shift to teleworking or still go to work.  Paychecks kept coming, and communication was flowing.  So many in the dental industry left, finding jobs where they felt valued, communicated with, and respected.

So what can we do?

It’s time to change the culture.

While signing bonuses look exciting and inflated hourly rates seem like a slam dunk to attract some candidates, I want to encourage you to look deeper.  How does your office interact with one another?  Are you indeed a team, or do you use that term because some consultant told you to? 

The surest way to a good hire is to start with a strong foundation, much like when you wow a patient and they tell their neighbors about their amazing dental office. Happy employees tell others about their awesome work environment and attract the people you are looking for. 

Having a solid team isn’t necessarily complicated or expensive. It just takes heart.  Here are four FREE things you can do to show your team they matter:

  • Brag on your employees to patients
      • When you come in for that hygiene exam, say, “Mrs. Smith, I know you were in great hands with Susie. She’s an amazing clinician.”
      • While you might think everyone knows how much you appreciate them, hearing you talk about them to someone else is powerful.
  • Write notes of appreciation. 
      • Make a goal to notice something great someone is doing once a week, write them a note, and mail it to their house.  
      • Having a handwritten note (or even an email) that is a visual reminder that your work matters goes a long way to feeling valued.
  • Have a whiteboard where the team can compliment each other
      • Hang up a dry erase or bulletin board in the break room where team members can brag on each other
      • Neuroscience shows us the more we look for the good, the more we see the good, the more we do good!
  • Invest in their career with free lunch and learns
      • Can’t afford to send the team to a big conference? Bring in lunch and learns on topics that interest them.
      • Not only do you get free lunch, but it also shows your team you want them to continue to learn and grow.
      • Added bonus!  Continued learning elevates your practice and helps prevent stagnation.

Statistics say it costs about $4000 to hire a new employee, not to mention the headache that comes with the process.  Taking the time to care for the team you have is worth a few extra minutes, and it’s bound to attract that next right person!!

Amanda HIll

Amanda Hill, RDH, BS has been in the dental industry for over 30 years, she earned her B.S. in Dental Hygiene at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia and has had the opportunity to experience dentistry around the world.   Amanda  has a love for learning and is obsessed with continuing education in all its many forms.  Amanda practices part time clinically and is an industry educator for the nation’s largest dental job board, DentalPost.net.  Amanda is a proud Navy spouse and mom of 3.

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