Getting a dental appointment just got tougher

Dental Hygienist

Existing patients are back to waiting longer to get dental appointments, according to new data released on July 5 from the ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI). On average, patients are waiting approximately 12 business days to get into the dental chair.

The last time wait times were that high was in September 2022. That number fell to a 10-day wait in October 2022 and stayed there until it crept back up to 11 days in March, according to the results of a poll of 1,100 practicing dentists that was conducted between June 13 and 19.

New patients are waiting nearly twice as long to be seen by a dentist. On average, it takes nearly 23 business days for them to get initial appointments. The last time wait times were of a similar length was in August 2022, when new patients were waiting about 24 days for their first appointments, according to HPI.

Staffing struggles

Dentists continue to grapple with staff shortages. About 38% of dentists are actively recruiting dental hygienists, and about 39% are trying to hire dental assistants. Meanwhile, about 25% of dentists are recruiting administrative staff, and approximately 16% are attempting to hire dentists, according to the poll's results. Dentists reported similar difficulties in May.

The dental hygienist role has been the most difficult position to fill. Of those recruiting, nearly 80% found it “extremely challenging” to hire hygienists. About 59% reported it being “extremely challenging” to recruit dentists, and 53% reported the same for hiring dental assistants, according to the data.

If graduation rates for dental hygienists and dental assistants are indicators of continued staff shortages, the situation may get worse before it gets better. In June, HPI reported that graduation rates fell for these dental professionals between 2021 and 2022.

Pay raises and benefits

Moreover, about 4 in 5 dentists have given dental hygienists and assistants pay increases in the last year. Of those, about 35% of dentists offered pay hikes of between 4% and 6% to dental hygienists. About 41% increased wages by the same percentages for dental assistants, according to HPI.

Furthermore, the top three benefits provided to employees were dental benefits, which were offered by about 93% of dentists; paid vacation, which were offered by approximately 92%; and paid holidays, which were offered by about 89%. Additionally, 1 in 5 dentists reported that their practices offered paid leave to dental staff, according to the data.

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