Research reveals impact of COVID-19 on dental hygienists

impact of COVID-19 on dental hygienists
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Nearly two years into the pandemic with widespread availability of COVID-19 vaccines and a decrease in infections, new studies in the US reveal dental hygienists have low COVID-19 infection rates and high vaccination acceptance. That said, less than half of dental hygienists that left employment early in the pandemic have returned to the workforce in 2021, and staffing challenges, exacerbated by the pandemic, persist.

The research, published in the Journal of Dental Hygiene, is part of collaborative research efforts between the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) and the American Dental Association (ADA) on the impact of COVID-19 on employment, infection prevention and vaccine acceptance among dental hygienists. 

“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,” lead author JoAnn Gurenlian said. 

“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.”

Despite initial concerns that dental hygienists were at increased risk of COVID-19, the research showed they had a lower COVID-19 cumulative prevalence than the general US population. Results also revealed that three quarters of US dental hygienists were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a higher proportion than the general public and healthcare workers outside of dentistry overall at the time.

However, as of August 2021, less than half of dental hygienists that left employment during the pandemic had returned to work. This possibly represents a permanent reduction of 3300 dental hygienists nationwide.

Despite recovery in dental practices’ patient volume, dentists in the US continue to report recruitment and retention challenges among dental hygienists due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The study authors note that future research should examine workforce levels after the pandemic resolves, as well as employment perspectives of dental hygienists from a qualitative perspective to yield greater understanding of the influencing factors that impact decisions to return to or engage in employment in clinical practice settings.

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