Over the last several years, addressing workforce shortage issues in the dental industry has been a top priority for the Ohio Dental Association.

According to the American Dental Association, vacant positions in dental assisting and dental hygiene reduced dental practice capacity by an estimated 10% nationally in 2022. In July 2022, 4 in 10 dental practices indicated they were recruiting or had recently recruited dental assistants, and nearly the same share indicated they were recruiting dental hygienists. Among dentists recruiting for these positions, the vast majority – 9 in 10 – indicated it was “extremely” or “very” challenging.

“Our member dentists need help to try to reverse the flow,” said Dr. Evan Tetelman, chair of the ODA Dental Education and Licensure Committee, which is overseeing the ODA’s workforce efforts. “I think we’ve stemmed the flow of people out of offices, but now we have to find a way to reconstitute fully staffed offices. It’s not something easy for the individual to do. You can try all sorts of dental hiring platforms, but if there aren’t bodies in those platforms looking to come to you it’s not going to do you any good. We’re trying to do it from the ground up, increasing efforts into training programs, making sure they’re full, putting out good high quality staff members, and secondarily letting dentists know what you need to do to maintain staff members.”

The 2022 ODA House of Delegates passed a resolution to develop and implement a dental staff recruitment campaign to help member dentists meet their staffing needs.

The resolution was submitted by the ODA Workforce Working Group, which was established by the Dental Education and Licensure Committee in 2021 to address the shortage numbers of hygienists, assistants, EFDAs and front office personnel.

The resolution aims to help ODA member dentists meet their staffing needs by promoting career path opportunities to the public, encouraging people to enter the dental field, and growing the number of applicants to Ohio’s dental assisting and hygiene programs.

“If we did absolutely nothing, it would probably work itself out, but it would take 20 years, and that’s not acceptable. That’s not what the ODA members want,” Tetelman said. “We’ve been looking at what we can do to create some positive flow, positive direction.”

This year, the ODA has worked to improve and enhance webpages on oda.org with information about careers in dentistry. The pages include descriptions of dental office positions, American Dental Association resources related to careers in dentistry and contact information for dental assisting and dental hygiene education programs in Ohio. The website is now more user-friendly, easier to access and attractive to younger individuals who may be interested in a career in dentistry, Tetelman said. The new webpages can be viewed at https://www.oda.org/about/public-resources/careers-in-dentistry/.

The ODA also released a new series of radio advertisements aimed at attracting new dental assistants and hygienists into the workforce. The three new radio spots highlight the benefits of becoming a dental assistant or hygienist and point listeners to visit oda.org, speak to their school guidance counselor or a dentist in their community to learn more. The radio ads began playing on ONN stations across the state in April. All of the radio advertisements can be found on the ODA website at https://www.oda.org/member-center/news-media/.

The ODA has also placed advertisements online and in social media in the target market with a similar message to the radio ads. The digital ads direct people to the ODA’s new careers in dentistry pages.

In April and May, the ODA’s careers in dentistry webpages had over 1,700 page views.

“We are looking to generate new, fresh, excited faces into the profession,” Tetelman said. “Our target is high school and early 20-year-olds, as it always has been, and we felt that we could reach them through a variation of social media marketing and the ONN radio ad campaign to trigger interest.”

In addition to recruiting more individuals into the field, the ODA is also working to bring hygienists and assistants who have left back into the workforce. In April, the ODA sent an email to those individuals who did not renew their dental hygiene licenses and dental assistant radiographer permits during the last renewal. The email included a “return to work in dentistry” message along with practical, easy to use information on how they can reinstate their expired licenses and certificates.

“If we could trigger more people to return, it would have an impact,” Tetelman said.

He said the hygienist and assistant shortage has been a problem for years, and it was magnified by COVID. Many hygienists and assistants left the workforce nationally, and while some have returned post-COVID, many have not.

In the future, the ODA will also be working to provide resources for members to help recruit and retain staff members.

In addition to these most recent efforts, past ODA efforts to improve workforce shortages include:

  • The ODA’s Workforce Working Group met 15 times in 2022 and held a forum with the state’s dental hygiene program directors to develop both policy and program recommendations to assist ODA member dentists in meeting their staffing requirements.
  • The ODA signed onto two letters to the Commission on Dental Accreditation advocating for changes to dental hygiene and assisting programs that would allow programs to increase capacity while possibly decreasing per capita operational expenses.
  • The ODA supported an amendment to the Ohio Dental Practice Act creating a third pathway to becoming a certified dental assistant in Ohio by allowing dental assistants to secure certification through American Medical Technologists.

“I think the ODA is the source that can begin looking at these items in total as a group,” Tetelman said. “For an individual member, it’s an overwhelming thing to try to accomplish. With things like the Dental Education and Licensure Committee, we have a dozen different sources that we’re pulling on and relying on and the expertise of a lot of individuals involved at the ODA and ADA level. I’m hoping these efforts will have a prolonged effect, not just a quick splash in the pond. We’re going to be interested in looking at this for years. It didn’t take us overnight to get here, and it’s not going to get solved overnight. If we can create an awareness in the dentist community of the importance of the rest of our staff, we can all grow together.”