4 Tips for Solving the Dental Staffing Shortage

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It’s been four years since the COVID-19 shutdown, and DSOs are still feeling the impact.

One of the industry’s biggest challenges is finding and retaining talented individuals. The numbers from the ADA’s Health Policy Institute and McKinsey & Co. are scary:

  • 34% of dental assistants are expected to retire by 2028
  • 31% of dental hygienists are expected to retire by 2028
  • 36,000: the number of dental workers the U.S. could be short by 2031

From automating tasks to re-thinking the traditional 40-hour work week, DSOs are getting creative as they deal with the staffing shortage.

DECA Dental started a dental assisting school

Dr. Sulman Ahmed is the founder of DECA Dental, a fast-growing DSO that is on pace to expand from 150 practices to about 200 this year.

“Post-COVID, there was a change in the workforce. A lot of dental assistants left. Chick-fil-A paid more than dental jobs at one point,” Dr. Ahmed said on The Dental Economist Show podcast with Mike Huffaker. “We decided to create our own dental assisting school. We don’t charge the students any fees, and we give them the option to work wherever they want to work after completing the program. A lot of them stay with us.”

In his book “Make Them Smile,” Dr. Ahmed writes that hiring is the most important process in a business. Every candidate is given a customized seven-minute survey that measures traits such as assertiveness, logical reasoning, attention to detail, and emotional intelligence. When checking references, the DECA team asks, “If you could give me one piece of advice to help me help this person succeed, what would it be?”

Hiring for culture fit helps the company select the best candidate for the opening they have now, as well as make it easier to promote from within in the future.

DSOs implement technology to save time and sanity

Dental practices are busy, and even if an office is short-handed, the work still needs to get done.

DSOs are turning to technology to help automate time-consuming tasks, streamline workflows, and reduce burnout.

Cloud-based practice management systems allow DSOs to build remote teams to handle marketing activities, run real-time reports, and manage the revenue cycle management process.

“Denticon in particular has a really strong functionality that can help streamline online scheduling, collections, insurance claim processing, and posting payments,” said Jill Nesbitt, CEO of Optimize Dental Consulting and an expert in technology implementation and training.

For a checklist of where technology may increase practice efficiency, click here.

Practices are re-thinking traditional jobs

With one in three hygienists and dental assistants expected to retire in the next five years, dental groups are getting creative.

Some of the options include:

  • Job-sharing
  • Hiring temporary and part-time hygienists and dental assistants
  • Increasing remote work opportunities for clerical tasks
  • Outsourcing some tasks

If your DSO is going this route, it’s important to have standard operating procedures (SOPs) developed for every position. The temp may not need to know everything, but he or she needs a cheat sheet on how to log in, operate the equipment, input notes, schedule a recare appointment, and other tasks that are core to providing excellent patient care.

Companies with the best culture will retain the best talent

Josey Sewell specializes in setting up systems that create cohesive teams and well-run workplaces, where people want to join or want to stay.

“What we’re seeing is that a lot of people prefer to temp now,” she said. “Decades ago, it was about going to work, and putting your head down, and getting your paycheck. Now it’s so much about looking for a strong leader and a company that aligns with your personal values. And if it doesn’t, they’re not going to work for you.”

Dentists and team members are going to be happier and more productive when they:

  • Aligned with the vision
  • Demonstrate the company’s core values
  • Have clear expectations
  • See a path for growth

“Many practices find they could probably do 50% more with their current team if they knew how to engage them and unlock their human potential and energy,” Sewell said.

For more tips including a new hire fit filter, click here to
download the Planet DDS eBook, “Overcoming Staffing Shortages:
Implementing the Right Process, Technologies, and Solutions