Dentists Innovate to Tackle the Hygiene Staffing Crisis

Author: Rachel Wall, RDH, BS

The shortage of dental hygienists has posed a significant challenge for dental practices across the US. This shortage not only affects the efficiency of the practice but also compromises patient care. Proactive dental teams are recognizing the critical need to innovate and evolve in order to serve their patients and protect the future of their practice. At Inspired Hygiene, we have the opportunity to interact with dentists every day in private forums, at study club events and in our interaction with our coaching clients. 

What we’ve observed this year is a higher level of innovative strategies to address the hygiene staffing crisis. These strategies include, but are not limited to utilizing associates for hygiene duties, implementing assisted hygiene programs, and integrating expanded function dental assistants (EFDAs) into their teams.

Associates Taking on Hygiene Duties 

One effective strategy employed by dentists to combat the hygiene staffing crisis is the utilization of associates for hygiene duties. In some cases, dentists with additional training and experience in dental hygiene are able to step in and perform preventive services and exams. This approach ensures that patients continue to receive essential oral healthcare while the team continues their search for a great fit hygienist.

Assisted Hygiene Model

An increasing number of dental practices are adopting an assisted hygiene model, which involves a team-based approach to patient care. In this model, dental assistants work alongside hygienists to perform certain tasks, such as taking radiographs, applying fluoride treatments, or conducting oral health education. This collaboration optimizes efficiency and enables hygienists to focus on their core responsibilities, such as periodontal assessments, therapies and maintenance. This model not only improves productivity but can also provide opportunities for skill development among dental assistants and provide elevated patient care in the team approach. 

Expanded Function Dental Assistants (EFDAs) 

The integration of expanded function dental assistants (EFDAs) has emerged as another promising solution to the hygiene staffing crisis. EFDAs receive specialized training that allows them to perform advanced dental assisting tasks and in some states, scaling for pediatric patients. While some may view this as a threat to hygienists, in practices with a significant backlog of patient appointment requests, EFDAs can take some of the burden off hygienists by doing simple pediatric recare visits with the supervision of dentists, conducting critical screenings to free up hygienists to focus on more complex treatments. By incorporating EFDAs into their teams, dentists can also expand their productivity by delegating allowed procedures. This approach has proven particularly effective in underserved areas where access to dental care is limited.

Comprehensive Staff Training

One of the key aspects of Inspired Hygiene’s approach is team training and calibration. Administrative team members may not diagnose periodontal disease however, when they have knowledge of the basis for that diagnosis, it increases their confidence in the clinicians in the practice and the treatment they are recommending. 

Whatever alternative approach a team takes to address the hygiene shortage, education of the entire team will increase the chances for success. When the entire team understands the goals and purpose of assisted hygiene, for example, they can speak confidently to patients about the care they are receiving in this model. The admin team can understand why there are periodontal therapy blocks and the importance of honoring them when they understand the urgency in treating active disease. 

Inspired Hygiene’s coaches provide training that goes beyond clinical skills to provide the team with support in communication, patient education, and teamwork. This holistic training ensures that the entire team is aligned and works collaboratively to achieve optimal patient care.

Dental practice owners are actively addressing the hygiene staffing crisis by implementing creative strategies. Through the utilization of associates for hygiene duties, assisted hygiene programs, and the integration of EFDAs, dental practices are striving to maintain the delivery of timely oral healthcare services. These innovative approaches not only address immediate staffing challenges but also enhance patient access to essential dental care.

Ready to elevate the hygiene department in your practice?  Schedule a Discovery session with our Founder and CEO, Rachel Wall to discover how our tailored coaching programs can transform your practice and enhance patient care.

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