February 3, 2022

Top Tips for Dental Practice Owners Dealing with Hygienist Shortage

By Gulzar Ahmed, Client Advisor & Chicago Office Director

The dental industry is currently experiencing an unprecedented shortage of hygienists and it’s creating a lot of stress for dental practice owners. If you currently employ a hygienist, you’re worried about them quitting for a job that pays better, and if you’re trying to hire a hygienist…well, good luck.

Even before the pandemic practice owners in many areas of the United States struggled to hire hygienists, but COVID-19 has super-charged the problem. After the initial shutdown in 2020, many hygienists simply never came back to work. A poll conducted by the American Dental Association (ADA) found that over half of those who left don’t want to return until COVID-19 is under control, 24% cited a lack of childcare, and 17% decided the pandemic was a good time to retire.

The situation has become a major pain point for dental practice owners. If your hygienist asks for more money than you can afford, they could walk out of your office and probably have another job tomorrow. In other words, the hygienists have all the leverage and practice owners feel like they’re walking on eggshells around the office. It’s not a healthy situation for any business owner.

As a practice owner, you always want to support your team and create an environment where everyone at the office is happy and productive. While there is no silver bullet that’s going to solve the hygienist shortage tomorrow, here are a few ideas that could help.

Respect & Communication

Whatever the problem, this is always a good place to start. Your hygienist is an important part of your practice, and they should feel valued and respected. Often practice owners don’t want to talk money with their hygienist, but now may be the time to set aside your reluctance and have a little more open dialogue about what you can and can’t afford. Approach conversations with an open mind and be flexible. Good communication can lead to surprising discoveries and unexpected solutions.

Determining What You Can Afford to Pay

Given the laws of supply and demand, you are almost certainly going to have to pay your hygienist more money – the question is how much more and what form the additional compensation takes. Ideally, your hygiene team should account for roughly one third of production while costing about 8-10% of total overhead. They should be producing roughly three times what they’re paid. If your hygienist asks for a raise and you can give it to them while staying within these metrics, do it. If you can’t, then consider some other options.

Productivity Bonus

Offer your hygienist a bonus that’s tied to increased productivity. Talk with them about what would be a reasonable goal. Maybe it’s increasing the number of fluoride treatments per month. Increased periodontal work would be an even higher value option, and an appealing one since your hygienist is in a good position to convert existing patients. Whatever goals you agree to, increasing production benefits the practice and the hygienist, making it a win – win.

Longevity or Retention Bonus

Reward your hygienist for staying with your practice. You can tie the bonus to a specified period and decide how frequently it’s awarded. When you consider the value of maintaining a consistent team, and the cost of training a new employee, I’d encourage you to be generous. This type of bonus not only motivates an employee to stay, it also discourages them from leaving a practice for a small increase in compensation.

Signing Bonus for New Hires

If you’re trying to hire a hygienist, a signing bonus will help. It doesn’t lock you into a higher hourly wage and could be the deciding factor that motivates a hygienist to pick your practice over another.

Invest in Your Hygiene Team

Whether it’s instruction that helps them to better serve patients or improve their communication skills, investing in your hygienist is another way to promote professional growth and contribute to your hygienist’s overall job satisfaction. To help, contact Jen at Polished & Profitable Advisors. She partners with practice owners to help create a culture where hygienists feel supported and are motivated to contribute to growing your practice.

If you have questions about how much you can really afford to pay a hygienist, give us a call at Engage Advisors. We’re here to help you address the many challenges that come up as you strive to build a financially healthy practice.