MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – The Wisconsin Dental Association (WDA) warns of a serious shortage of workers in the industry.

Officials say the dental workforce shortage started before the pandemic, but during, nearly 10% of dental hygienists have temporarily or permanently left the workforce due to COVID-19.

This leaves dental practices nationwide with challenges and staffing gaps.

“We are at a critical point. We’ve never had anything like this in dentistry, ”said Dr Patrick Tepe, general dentist at Associated Dentists in Verona. As the past 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 labor shortage is causing concern across the industry. “Dental hygienists are precisely where the greatest crisis is,” he said.

Unlike other industries, according to Dr. Tepe, for dentistry the shortages are not due to lack of interest from applicants, but lack of access to education and training for the job.

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

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

“They train 31 hygienists graduates per year for several years. It’s just way below what we need to keep up with the changes, ”Tepe said.

Current WDA president Dr Cliff Hartmann said a letter sent to technical colleges statewide urging them to expand their programs. “What we need to do is open the floodgates and install more training seats so that more people can be trained,” Hartmann said.

To expand dentistry training, Hartmann says colleges would need funding and expressed community interest.

Until this happens, many dental offices will continue to experience the pain of the shortage and you might too. “This not only has an impact on offices, but above all on patients. If you call today and say to come in for an exam or a cleaning, you could wait 10 weeks or 3 months to get that appointment, ”he said.

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