Hygienist shortages impacting patient scheduling at dental offices

Hygienist shortages impacting patient scheduling at dental offices

Hygienist shortages impacting patient scheduling at dental offices

Dental offices are facing a continued dental hygienist shortage that’s impacting patient scheduling for cleanings.

It’s not uncommon to hear from patients it took months to get an appointment for a dental cleaning.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to a handful of offices across the state who expressed they could use more hygienists, but hiring has been a challenge for years.

For some patients at Associated Dentists in St. Paul, sitting in the chair is a dose of nostalgia.

“Getting your teeth cleaned, seeing their doctor that they’ve seen for years and seeing their hygienist they’ve seen for years,” Carrie Peper, Associated Dentists office manager, said.

But lately, patients are met with new faces at their appointments.

“We do our best to explain to them the shortage and most of them, if not all, are pretty understanding, but they’re disappointed,” Peper said.

After the pandemic started, Peper said she saw dental hygienists retire early and hiring replacements felt impossible.

“We’re not seeing any applications for dental hygiene positions,” Peper said.

The office fills in the gap with traveling hygienists, but the shortage still trickles down to patients.

Peper said they’re scheduling about six months out.

“It really affects access to care for the citizens of Minnesota if the dental offices are unable to staff properly,” Jim Nickman, Minnesota Dental Association, said.

The Minnesota Dental Association has been tracking the shortage for years.

Nickman said retirees are outpacing new hires, the number of dental school graduates has dropped and so has the interest in the field.

He added he doesn’t think lack of pay is behind the decline in Minnesota.

“Minnesota is actually probably one of the higher markets for pay for dental assistants and dental hygienists,” Nickman said.

People who work in the field are doing their best to recruit future employees themselves.

“Just encouraging young people, it’s a wonderful field,” Peper said. “It’s a caring field, you really see what you do. You get compensated well and it’s a rewarding career.”

The Minnesota Dental Association said they’re also working with the state to try and fix the shortage by increasing the capacity of dental hygiene programs so more students can get into classes each semester.

They’re also trying to spark interest in the field at a younger age.