May 25, 2022

go health

Dentists deal with surge in patients, lack of staff

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) – Dentists across the nation are reporting a staffing shortage and an increase in demand for appointments amid the pandemic. Local offices are saying it could take months for a new patient to be seen for a routine cleaning.

According to the American Dental Association, patient volume was at 89% in August, the highest it’s been since March of 2020. One problem that dentists are reporting is not having enough staff to see those patients in a timely manner. Ninety percent of dentists have reported recruitment of dental hygienists is extremely or very challenging, with 4 in 10 of those dentists seeking assistants.

In Tucson, some offices are reporting it could take up to four months for new patients to be seen for a routine visit. Because of COVID-19 shutdowns and concerns of possible spread, Dr. Alexa Carrara Benzell of Campbell Dental Group said a lot of patients are calling before the end of the year to get their teeth cleaned after not getting routine appointments during the pandemic.

“For existing patients, we try to get them in as soon as possible, but for new patients most of the time it will be close to January before we can see them,” Carrara Benzell said. “We would normally be able to get a new patient in within the same month.”

Staffing shortages are also being seen in Tucson. Experts say some dental hygienists got out of the industry altogether due to the risk of exposure. They say it’s really challenging to hire for those positions now because there are more openings than applicants.

“Dentistry is not a work-from-home situation. With child care issues, that made people more comfortable staying home but also some people with dentistry working on people, we’re very up-close,” Carrara Benzell said. “We’re very exposed to a lot of things and some people aren’t comfortable with that anymore and they looked for a different career.”

If you’re a new patient, Carrara Benzell said she recommends calling ahead and scheduling an appointment as soon as possible. She said it’s OK if you wait three to four months for a routine visit. Due to cancellations, you will often be seen sooner.

“If you’re experiencing pain, communicate that over the phone so you can be seen as soon as possible,” Carrara Benzell said.

Experts want to stress how important routine cleanings are. Carrara Benzell said dentists are noticing inflamed gums or cracked teeth from a lack of routine visits during the pandemic, and said it is important to do routine care in order to prevent something more serious.

Copyright 2021 KOLD News 13. All rights reserved.