A report on the effects of the pandemic on dental hygienists shows that it has taken a significant toll on the workforce, with less than half returning to the job after leaving.

The American Dental Association and American Dental Hygienists Association published a report on the impact of COVID-19 on employment, infection prevention, and vaccine acceptance among dental hygienists. 

The research found that the pandemic has exacerbated a voluntary reduction in the dental hygiene workforce, possibly representing a permanent reduction of 3,300 dental hygienists nationwide (1.6%).

Infection rates for dental hygienists were low at 8.8%, and as a group, they had a high vaccination rate of 75.4%.

The data updated findings from a previous longitudinal study conducted over 12 months from September 2020 to August 2021 with a panel of 6,976 dental hygienists across the U.S., Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

“This study of dental hygienists has shown us the profound impact of COVID-19 on clinical practice, as well as the value of disease prevention measures,” said JoAnn Gurenlian, RDH, MS, PhD, AFAAOM., a lead author of the research and ADHA’s director of education and research. “Workplace safety is of paramount importance to dental hygienists, and it has an effect on employment patterns. This underscores the need to adhere to infection control guidance and proper PPE.”

As of August 2021, less than half of dental hygienists that left employment during the pandemic had returned to work. According to the study, 7.9% of respondents that had been employed in March 2020 were not working six months later in September 2020. When the study concluded in August 2021, that number decreased to 4.9%.

“Not unlike many other professions in the United States, challenges persist in dental hygienist employment,” said Rachel Morrissey, senior research analyst with the ADA Health Policy Institute (HPI). “The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a voluntary reduction in the dental hygiene workforce and may persist, as some dental hygienists are choosing to permanently leave the profession.”

The full report was published in the February issue of The Journal of Dental Hygiene.

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