Dental staffing shortage continues as dentist offices return to pre-pandemic operations

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — For nearly the past four decades, Dr. Mark Sweeney has been practicing cosmetic dentistry at Austin Dental Spa. When the pandemic hit, things changed.

“It was scary for a while,” Dr. Mark Sweeney said about the unknown in the early days of the pandemic.

The first challenge his office had to face was navigating the world of COVID-19.

“We had patients coming in one at a time, we had staggered appointment times, we were seeing maybe 25% to 50% of the normal patient flow,” Sweeney explained.

Sweeney said they started to see people returning once vaccines became widely available.

“That seemed to be the biggest gamechanger,” he said. “A lot of people were still very reluctant to come back to a dental office or any indoor facility until they got both vaccines and then waited for two weeks.”

The pandemic also brought another challenge, the lack of dental hygienists.

A recent American Dental Association report shows about 30% of people who worked as dental hygienists voluntarily decided to quit practicing for fears of contracting COVID-19. Around 20% reported they had workplace safety concerns, while 16% stopped practicing because someone in their household had an underlying health condition. There were also nearly 40% who simply retired, and that added to the shortage.

Luckily, Sweeney said their office is back to being fully staffed and are operating at pre-pandemic levels. However, there are some offices that look to fill those open positions to this day as people continue to return to the dentist’s office.

Sweeney said he’s seen a spike in cosmetic dental procedures. At his office, they administered double the number of teeth whitening procedures in July and August compared to past years.

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