Growing Shortage of Dentists and Hygienists Hurts Health of the Nation’s Workforce

20 May, 2024 Chriss Swaney


Sarasota, FL ( -- The numbers paint a clear picture: the dental industry is grappling with an unprecedented staffing deficit. The American Dental Association (ADA) reports that staffing shortages have reduced dental practice capacity by 10 percent.  That means that most practices could see more patients if they had more staff.  And the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) reports the country will need at least 10,802 more dentists by 2025.

 Ward Blackwell, executive director of the Pennsylvania Dental Association, described the situation as a “perfect storm.’’ 

During the early months of the pandemic, many dental practices could not operate, and some older dentists decided to retire early. Some older hygienists and assistants retired, too, and other left the field, according to Blackwell.

“There was an acceleration of retirements, and hygienists and assistants kind of tended to change careers or retire,’’ said Blackwell. “From 2019 to 2022, there was a lot of mobility at that time, and Pennsylvania had a net loss of dentists – more left our state than came in.’’ said Blackwell.  

Inflation and pandemic supply chain issues hit the industry, increasing overhead costs, according to Blackwell.

“Everything you can imagine put economic pressure on the industry,’’ said Blackwell. “Your typical practice had their expenses go up, but not really their income level, yet they’re under pressure to pay more to try and recruit staff,’’ said Blackwell.

Unless you are living under a rock these days, there is a lack of workers in the dental industry, according to Tracee Dahm, adjunct clinical instructor for North Idaho College School of Dental Hygiene.

And Dahm points out that because of the country’s inflation rate and high overhead costs, many dentists are reluctant to volunteer their time to help others. 

Workers who may not be able to afford dental care like tooth extractions or restorations, may not have access to care.  So some states have highlighted Dahm’s concerns about two trends – the underserved and the shortage of workers.

In New York state, for example, several bills have been developed to help stem the tide of dentists retiring. The average age of America’s dentists is 60. A few of the New York state legislative measures include a bill designed to streamline licensing for dentists trained out of state by allowing a preceptorship as an alternative to traditional residency requirements. Other measures would include dentists in a state program offering student loan repayment for physicians committed to serving underserved areas and allow dental practices to purchase more affordable health insurance plans for employees through the state-run “Healthy New York” program. 

The ADA said that some of the current solutions to the workforce shortage have focused on cross-training staff, with dentists taking on additional responsibilities traditionally handled by assistants and hygienists.

The HRSA considers an area underserved if a population falls below the minimum standard of one dentist per 5,000 people. About two-thirds of the designated areas for dentist shortages are rural or partially rural areas.

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    About The Author

    • Chriss Swaney

      Chriss Swaney is a freelance reporter who has written for Antique Trader Magazine, Reuters, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Report, the Burlington Free Press, UPI, The Tribune-Review and the Daily Record.

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