Dental workforce shortage reaches critical level in Wisconsin

You may have to wait weeks to get in to see the dentist in the new year.
The Wisconsin Dental Association (WDA) warns of a critical shortage of workers in the industry.
Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 6:38 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 23, 2021 at 6:58 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - The Wisconsin Dental Association (WDA) warns of a critical shortage of workers in the industry.

Officials say the dental workforce shortage began before the pandemic but during, nearly 10% of dental hygienists temporarily or permanently left the workforce as a result of COVID-19.

This is leaving dental offices nationwide with challenges and holes to fill in staffing.

“We’re at a crisis point. We’ve never had something like this in dentistry,” said Dr. Patrick Tepe, general dentist with Associated Dentists in Verona. As former president of the Wisconsin Dental Association and the Dane County Dental Society, Tepe says he’s always been an advocate for dental health.

Dr. Tepe says the workforce shortage is sparking concern across the industry. “Specifically dental hygienists is where the greatest crisis is,” he said.

Unlike other industries, Dr. Tepe says for dentistry, shortages aren’t due to lack of candidate interest but lack of access to education and training for the job.

“We need more training programs.There are far less new hygienists being produced than what we need,” he said.

According to Dr. Tepe, Madison College is the only program in Dane County that graduates dental hygienists.

“They’ve been graduating 31 hygienists per year for a number of years. That’s just far below what we need to keep up with the changes,” said Tepe.

Current WDA president, Dr. Cliff Hartmann says a letter sent to technical colleges across the state is asking them to expand their programs. “What we need to do is open the flood gates and put in more training seats so more people can be trained,” said Hartmann.

To expand dentistry education, Hartmann says colleges would need the funding and expressed interest from the community.

Until that happens, many dental offices will continue to feel the ache of the shortage and you might too. “It’s not just impacting the offices, more importantly it’s impacting patients. If you called today and said to come in for an exam or cleaning, you might be waiting 10 weeks or 3 months to get that appointment,” he said.

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