Dental hygiene has changed dramatically over the past few years.
The labor market has still not recovered from the pandemic when a wave of retirements meant that practices found themselves navigating unfilled vacancies for months. As a result, some hygienists have seen their salaries climb to double what they earned during the pre-pandemic era, with pay reaching or even exceeding $70 an hour in big coastal markets.
And while we’re not yet sure whether hygiene practices are here to stay, we’re certainly curious to find out.
But what’s next for hygiene as a part of a regular dental office? How is the role expected to evolve over the next decade or so?
We asked Rachel Wall, a dental consultant, founder of Inspired Hygiene, and a former working hygienist, for her take on the question.
The Future of Hygiene is About Volume… or Long-Term Quality
Rachel sees two possible directions. First is “continued high PPO participation,” she told us. In this case, while high wages for hygienists will keep hygiene profits down, some practice leaders will compensate by either seeking to boost their volume of patients or turning to part-time or temp hygienists in a bid to control costs.
Rachel also predicts that practices will increasingly see hygiene as a loss leader — a way of getting patients in the door that isn’t profitable on its own but generates long-term value by laying the foundation for lasting patient relationships.
Option two is already happening — practices are going out of network, which allows them to set higher hygiene fees that make sense for this new labor environment. “However, in order to do that, they have to build really deep relationships with their patients,” she said.
“Practices also need to provide things that patients are looking for, like convenience or whole body health.”
In other words, practices should be gearing up to focus on either seeing a high volume of PPO hygiene patients or steering clear of insurance entirely and taking a fee-for-service approach that’s all about winning patients over with long-term quality care.
Of course, if any practice figures out how to do both at once… watch out!
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