Purpose: Despite recovery in dental practices' patient volume, dentists in the United States (US) continue to report difficulties in hiring dental hygienists due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This study updates previous data on US dental hygienists' employment patterns and attitudes concerning returning to work.Methods: Licensed dental hygienists were invited to participate in monthly web-based surveys between September 2020 and August 2021. Employment questions included current and pre-pandemic work status as well as reasons for not currently working as a clinical dental hygienist. Descriptive statistics were used to describe dental hygienists' employment status and reasons for not currently working. Cross tabulation analysis included employment status and reasons for not working by age group.Results: As of August 2021, 4.9% (n=59) of the participants reported that they were not currently employed as a dental hygienist. Most reported that the reason for non-employment as a dental hygienist was voluntary (74.1%; n=43).Safety concerns for self and others were the primary reasons for not returning to work; participants also indicated retirement or that they no longer wished to practice due to the pandemic. However, the percentage of respondents citing insufficient childcare, wanting the COVID-19 vaccine but not obtaining it, and having an underlying health condition, decreased between the beginning and the conclusion of the study.Conclusion: A measurable degree of hesitancy among US dental hygienists to return to work has persisted over a year and a half into the pandemic and may continue despite some improvements in workplace safety and vaccine uptake. Future research should examine workforce levels after the pandemic resolves.
Keywords: COVID-19; dental hygiene workforce; dental hygienists; employment patterns; pandemic.
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