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Where have all the employees gone?

Where have all the employees gone? Image

By Olivia Wann

Recently I co-presented a course on how to do risk assessments for the Association of Dental Safety (formerly OSAP).  A top down strategy to assess risk is to evaluate the areas of strategic, technology, financial, operations, legal/regulatory and human capital.

Based on the audience’s participation, it appears that most practices in attendance are struggling with human capital.  Between the labor shortage and having to employ dental assistants and administrative team members with little to no dental background, practices are struggling.

As a matter of fact, when I presented for the Star of the North, hosted by the Minnesota Dental Association, there was a lot of buzz about the shortage of dental assistants and hygienists.

Dr. Rose Perpich was quoted as saying, “Hygienists and dental assistants, there’s quite a shortage in both of those areas to the point where some offices have to cut back their hours because they can’t find staff.” [1]

I presented a program that was sold out entitled, “From Acceptable to Exceptional:  How to raise your team’s performance and keep them engaged” at Star of the North.  The content focused on how to contribute to workplace satisfaction. I addressed symptoms of drifting and quiet quitting.  We came up with ideas of how to overcome the workplace shortage such as outsourcing administrative work, recognizing talent, encouraging work-life balance, and paying employees competitively.

Dental practices experience much frustration when much time is consumed training new hires only for them to quit within months. New hire candidates do not show up for job interviews.  Those who are employed may appear disengaged while others are working a double load.

Hang in there! We are all dealing with this crisis together!  A few considerations:

  • Practice within the scope of license in your state.  Avoid being the subject of a dental board complaint by having dental assistants function beyond what they are licensed to do in accordance with the state’s Dental Practice Act.


  • Sterilization Assistants should be trained! If you are engaging new workforce members to work in central sterilization because licensure may not be required, provide training.  This is a critical area of your practice.  All protocols must correspond with CDC’s infection control guidelines and the state’s infection control policy.  It is important for these workforce members to understand the science of why certain protocols are in place to avoid an infection control breach. 


  • Hiring high school students?  You must comply with federal and state law.  Check your state’s department of labor webpage for information on the child labor laws.  For example, in Tennessee, the Tennessee Child Law includes protections for 14 to 17 year olds who are employed.[2]

 If you are interested in scheduling a training session on “From Acceptable to Exceptional:  How to raise your team’s performance and keep them engaged,” contact the office.  We will offer this program live via Zoom on request.


[1] https://www.kttc.com/2023/10/17/dental-shortages-continue-across-minnesota-local-providers-discuss-issues-solutions/

[2] https://www.tn.gov/workforce/employees/labor-laws/labor-laws-redirect/child-labor.html

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