How to Hire Dental Staff and Energize your Practice

Posted by Andrew Hickey on May 5, 2023 3:15:59 PM


View of female and male dentists discussing reports

Finding the right people for your dental team can be like climbing a mountain. Stay with me. You put a lot of time and energy into scaling your way up. You find value along the way, and you want to come back on the other side successfully. The ideal result: you have people with the skill and energy to help you propel your practice to the next level.

Before starting your climb to hire dental staff, it is important to take the time to determine what your baselines are for recruiting talent and what your approach will be throughout the interview process and beyond.


Key Takeaways:

  • Hire for long-term goals instead of short-term needs.
  • Be prepared for competition - especially for dental hygienists and assistants.
  • Recruit through job boards, social media, and word of mouth.
  • Make your office a fun and inspiring place to work.
  • Set expectations early and provide quality training.



It’s understandable that you may be in a crunch and need staff urgently. However, you will want people who are excited about the job and want to learn about your practice.

In today’s hiring climate there are various platforms you can use to find your candidates. Whether you're looking for a dentist, a billing specialist or additional office support a focused approach is required.  

So, let’s now take a closer look at the needs of dentists, what staff members are looking for, and which approaches you can focus on during your search.

What is contributing to staffing issues?
Many dental hygienists, dental assistants and other staff members left the field during the pandemic and did not come back. According to an ADA study on workforce shortages, vacancies in dental assisting and dental hygiene have reduced dental practice capacity by around 10 percent nationally. One in three dentists who were polled said they don’t have full appointment schedules. This dynamic is having a significant impact on productivity and in some cases office hour availability.

To succeed in the face of staffing struggles you want to cultivate an environment that is attractive to current and prospective staff. Per a job satisfaction poll, nearly 60 percent of dental hygienists and 63 percent of dental assistants said they’re actively applying for jobs and looking for new opportunities.

What dental office managers are saying about staffing:
Practice managers have a lot of priorities. These are magnified when you’re trying to maintain enough staff to keep patients coming in. Dentists in private practices have
identified the vacancies they’re struggling to fill in an ADA report. Over 77 percent of the dentists pointed to a lack of dental hygiene applicants, as well as demand for higher wages and improved benefits. In addition, 57 percent of dentists pointed to lack of dental assistant applicants, as well as unqualified or poor applications. Some of the biggest issues caused by lack of staff include:

  • Loss of production and efficiency: This affects the operation of a practice and impacts the bottom line. This happens during times with fluctuating staff numbers.
  • Higher cost of vacancy: The cost of vacancy can be high. So, it’s crucial to engage in analysis of your workforce. You will need to identify and fill positions that are currently lacking.
  • Lower patient experience and retention: The interactions your patients have with your staff and practice will affect if they come back. This includes the level of care and accessibility, as well as how responsive you are to patient needs.

What priorities staff members have:
When assessing your staff for job performance and satisfaction, you will also want to think about the job seekers out there who are scrolling through postings. Many people are being picky and leveraging their skills to find jobs in other industries.

  • Work-life balance and work schedule: in a study 50 percent of people said they would change jobs if they could work from home. 23 percent of full-time employees said they would be willing to take a pay cut of more than 10 percent to work from home. 
  • Feeling valued as a team member
  • Growth and advancement opportunities
  • Workplace culture and philosophy
  • Insufficient pay and inadequate benefits: In a satisfaction and salary survey of dental assistants, fair compensation was listed as number one by a wide margin.


Review your recruiting process:
The pandemic has caused radical shifts in how companies hire and manage employees, and how they designate workflows. It may be worth offering options like flexible hours or part-time work. Also consider looking at prospects you might not normally consider.


If you have any promising applicants, let them know you’re excited to meet and set up time to have them come in. This will allow them to meet your team and do a real-world test. For example, if you’re interviewing a dental hygienist or front-office staff, ask a current team member to walk the candidate through common tasks to see how they do. It will give them a clear idea of your team and workplace.


For additional resources to hire dental staff, there is a hiring toolkit from DentalPost. And the ADA has a list of the 10 hiring mistakes to avoid. Before interviewing any candidates, it is important to answer these questions:

  • What are the day-to-day requirements?
  • What are the other duties of the position?
  • How is the position managed or supervised?
  • What instruments or equipment are needed?
  • What verbal, numeric or computer skills are necessary?

As you go over these criteria, it will be helpful to look at the job performance of the previous employee who had the role. You can isolate two or three factors that have the most impact on job performance. It will also be helpful to get insight from your dental team.

How to structure your interviews:
Due to the current dental labor shortage, it can take longer to find someone you may consider as your ideal candidate. Make sure your interview process allows you to get a sense of the candidate’s personality and attitude, as well as their skillset.

  • Ask your candidates for a resume and cover letter: If the candidate sends in both it shows they’re ready to make extra effort and can follow instructions. And a well-presented resume can give you insight into how they will communicate with your team and patients.
  • Evaluate candidates based on attitude: Some candidates will have less experience than others. But if they have a positive attitude they can be easily trained in the areas where they need to develop. If they mention your website or information about your practice during the interview, they deserve extra points. This means they’re resourceful and committed to finding a permanent home.
  • Aim for the right candidate the first time: Doing you due diligence regarding a candidate’s qualifications and personality will pay off in the long run. Hiring a less-than-stellar candidate can end up costing you time and money and affect the reputation of your practice. If you have an experienced candidate but can’t afford their full salary expectations, you could bring them on part-time at first.
  • What you can learn from phone interviews: To set the tone you can start by introducing yourself and talking about your family and hobbies. If they are observant and a strong communicator the candidate will then share some of their background. If they aren’t already consider having the dentist conduct the interview. It will show that they are invested in the process and the candidate’s success.

Use your website and social media to find prospects:
office website can be invaluable in recruiting new employees. It should be treated with attention to detail. Here are tips on enhancing your approach and new steps you can take:

  • Add a “Careers” or “Join Us” page: prospective employees should be able to learn why they need to join your office and easily find job openings.
  • Have individual pages for each job: the links can then be easily shared on search engines, job boards and social media.
  • Optimize your job pages for search engines: you can add “structured data” to your job pages, so they show up on the Google Jobs Board.
  • Look at other dental websites from your area: you can get ideas and gauge the success of your job pages.
  • Use your practice’s social media channels: you can announce job openings and look at purchasing ads to boost your job posts.
  • Take advantage of social media groups: dentists and dental staff can post about available jobs on pages like the Dental Peeps Facebook group.

Post on job search websites:
There are general job search sites, as well as industry specific sites, where you can recruit for any type of position you may have open. Every dental market is different, so you will want to research the best job websites for your area. Using job websites, you will increase your visibility on the Google Jobs Board when someone searches for a specific job in their area. Here are a few websites to consider:

Develop an employee referral program:
Encourage your current staff to help acquire new team members.
82% of employers say their best staff members come from referrals. And these referrals have been shown to reduce the time it takes to hire by almost 50 percent. Since they understand your practice and culture, current team members are a valuable resource. If the program is effective, you could redirect your job advertising budget to pay for employee referral incentives.

Use word of mouth and relationships:
Encourage your team to promote open jobs to friends and family, and on their social media channels. Here are some additional resources you can use:

  • Relationships with dental schools: Having staff members volunteer their time at a dental school can raise awareness and build relationships. For example, offer to speak at a dental assistant training program or visit a local school for dental billing.
  • Connections with local dental offices: Reaching out to some of your contacts with other local dental offices won’t cost you any money. And they may know of someone who is qualified and looking for an opportunity.
  • Using recruitment agencies: These agencies are a good time saver and can screen the best candidates for various positions. A recruiting agency can also provide insights and advice about the local job market.
  • Keeping an inventory of potential employees: Make sure to hold on to all the resumes you receive for any future opportunities that may come up. It can help to keep them handy.

Offer quality training.
As you evaluate your recruitment and interview process, you will also want to look at your staff training programs. This will be a perfect opportunity to ask for insight from your current staff. Quality education and training is essential for current and future staff members. So, be sure to consider these questions:

  • Do you actively talk to staff about interpersonal skills (verbal communication, active listening, problem solving)?
  • Are your staff prepared for working with upset patients?
  • Do you have a handbook on different scenarios in the office and does it get updated?
  • Have you have defined your brand identity and the key traits to succeed at your office?
  • Do you offer paid opportunities for continuing education (CE), like lunch and learns?
  • Do you have career paths and growth opportunities for your staff?

Studies show that employees are more likely to stay with a job if they find their work enjoyable. This includes using their strengths, as well as feeling that they are gaining experience to develop professionally.

Make your office a great place to work.
Before looking for candidates, think about why people would want to work at your office. Ultimately if employees are not
happy in the workplace a lot of those factors won’t matter. Make sure you can set yourself apart from other practices in the area. Let’s look at upgrades you can make to your workplace experience:

  • Talk to your team members at least once a month: A five-minute chat may be all it takes. Find out what’s going well for people and what’s bothering them. Make it an open forum.
  • Think outside the 9-to-5 workday: Many people are looking for jobs that fit into their family schedule. They happen to be qualified candidates, but the full-time schedule is a barrier. Offer options like early finishes, half-days schedules or a four-day week.
  • New hire bonuses: This can be the icing on the cake when an offer of employment is extended. To encourage retention, the hiring bonus should be split up, at the beginning and then at the end of a designated employment period.
  • Use expert trainers and mentors: Let applicants know that you provide dedicated onsite training. This will encourage less experienced prospects. And receiving training is an appealing benefit for new hires.
  • Cross-train your team: this can be essential if you’re in a staff shortage. You don’t want to lose a key team member and have no one else who can complete the task.
  • Foster an environment of recognition: All dental staff members appreciate receiving acknowledgment for their hard work. For example, you can publicly recognize their achievements through social media or an “employee of the month” program. Work with your dentist or dental HR to determine what would be the best approach for your practice.

Set expectations with your new staff:
As your staff embark on their journey with your practice you will want to establish expectations such as:

  • Professional and friendly: Offer a smile and greeting to make patients feel at home. Be an active listener to better understand the needs of patients. And save time by reviewing charts early and looking for opportunities to be proactive.
  • Communication and transparency: Let your new team members know they can come to you or their colleagues for support and if they have any concerns. You want to catch issues before they get bigger. When it comes to patient care, it’s important to provide clear explanations, whether it’s about billing or treatment. A lack of communication impacts the success of relationships.

Sometimes, no matter how hard both sides try, things don’t always work out. That’s why it’s important to have a trial period for new staff members (typically 60-90 days). As we’ve discussed here, you always want to find the right staff member on the first try. But it’s reassuring to have options in place.


Every dental office has its own way of recruiting and interviewing candidates. It can include personality tests, on-site trials or any method that works for you. All these strategies can be important in revealing the qualities of prospective team members. You want to give your office the best chance at building successful long-term relationships so you can continue to propel to the peak of success. Yes, one more mountain reference.

Topics: how to hire a dentist, dental hire, hire dental staff, dental office hiring, hire dentist, dental hygienist hiring, how to hire a dental hygienist, how to hire a dental associate

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