Dentists Cut Hours of Dental Hygienists

Dental hygienistsOne dentist in three has cut their dental hygienist working hours, with the slow economy leaving less demand for dental hygiene services.

Another 11% have reduced the number of dental hygienists they employ, and 5% have cut compensation.

“Hygiene is the fuel that feeds the fire,” said a California dentist.

How much hygienists are paid is an important dental management decision. “Upon doing a practice analysis, we found we overpaid our hygienist by $13,000,” said one dentist. “We paid more in hourly plus benefits than we collected!”

“Our hygienist was paid salary and now she is paid hourly,” said one doctor. Offered another, “Instead of any raises, we put our hygienists on a bonus system based on achieving a minimum daily production.”

Here’s more of what dentists had to say on hygienists and tooth cleaning appointments:

  • “Hygiene at our office, which has a dentist and a prosthodontist, has remained strong throughout this economy. We are very thankful.” (Ohio prosthodontist)
  • “We have not cut hours, but we have worked very hard at activating past due patients, with good success.” (General dentist)
  • “We have at least two cancellations in hygiene daily. Most tell us to reschedule their dental cleaning later into the year. Other simply say they are not coming.” (Bermuda dentist)
  • “Hygiene is the one aspect of the practice that hasn’t shown lower numbers. I’m glad we instituted a good recall systems several years ago.” (Pennsylvania dentist)
  • “We are seeing more no-shows, and some people are wanting to wait a year instead of 6 months for their next dentist cleaning.” (Dental hygenist)
  • “If things slow down more, I will cut my dental hygentist days or time and do the dental hygiene myself.” (New York dentist)
  • “They have to take on more responsibility.” (Massachusetts dentist)
  • “We have a very periodontal oriented office. A lot of our patients are switching themselves to twice a year for teeth cleaning. They only want what the dental insurance will cover.” (Utah dental office worker)
  • “The gross receipts were down about 1% last year, but the profits were slightly up.” (Pennsylvania dentist)

Read more about dental practice management: Dental Hygienists – How the Recession Affects the Dentist

About Julie Frey

+Julie Frey is the Editor of blog. She has dedicated her career to Internet marketing and communications, working side-by-side with dental marketing guru Jim Du Molin since 2006. She has a degree in Linguistics from Stanford University, has a passion for language and writing, and lives in San Francisco.

  • Marketing for Dental Specialists

    With the way things are going right now I can really see this happening in order to reduce costs.

  • Barry Polansky

    Lots of reasons for this occurring. I don’t think there is a simple answer. I would advise keeping our heads in the game and doing what’s in front of us. It’s too bad that the economy has really turned the aphorism about an “ounce of prevention” on its head.

  • cara

    I am a RDH in Calif.
    It’s interesting reading the responses from Dentists around the nation who have laid off or reduced hours.
    We have the opposite situation. We are booked out solid for 9 mons. We are blessed in this economy, we have also fostered this result by nuturing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.
    We have 3 hygienists, We take our own FMX,Velscope, use the Diagnodent, Laser for every SRP, Pmt. We use the intraoral camera and have excellent verbal skills.
    We attend ce courses monthly, and the CDA yearly.
    I think if your hygienists are overpaid, it is because you have undertrained them, and not required enough from them.
    I think that there are alot of Divas or “prophy princesses” in our field that get alot of the spotlight.
    That being said, there are also many good, passionate dedicated and loyal hygienists that are willing to help build a practice. Support and reinforce the actions you desire in your practice, and you will reap the rewards.

  • Sue

    I feel in our office, our hygienists are undertrained, I worked in a perio office in the past, have been trying to get the dentist to pay for perio seminar/training due to a few new hygienists in our practice, not diagnosis gum disease. I have 50 min appointments, am expected to perio chart myself, take all x-rays, rec’d txment, vizilite, arrestin, etc.. My dds won’t support any continuing education, won’t attend anything we bring into the office. and if I’m not booked I have to punch out. Therefore rely on front desk to fill my schedule, as I don’t have time. brings in our 1 million a year, I am not offered any benefits, paid vacation, continuing education, etc.

  • Marlene

    I find both the assistant and myself have had some hours cut because we have the Best receptionist that will consolidate the patients on our daily schedule.
    I am very shocked at finding out the assistant makes Just 12 dollars an hour less than I “THE PRODUCER”. This really makes me mad , especially when I leave as soon as my work is complete and don’t drag my heels to scam for more money.I just don’t understand letting the hygienist go, it is the receptionist that makes or breaks a practice.(sorry about the rant against the assistant-it is unresolveable when the boss has a personal instead of professional relationship with an employee.)

  • Kellie

    I am the only hygienist in our office, and I get paid commission, and have not seen a difference, since the decline in the economy. My patients love me, I send out recall, and instead of a 50 min prophy for an adult, I allow 30 min and 15min for children. A class I prophy should only take 10 mins chair time. I would love to offer a class on effienciency in hygiene, too much time is wasted. I have the answers and its works, my pay proves it, i’m in georgia and I make 6 figures.

  • Cathy

    Due to economic conditions, it is time for dentists to make two paradigm shifts in their schedules. No longer does the Mon-Thurs work. In Calif, it is shocking that only 51% of DDSs hire RDHs.

    Tues-Sat schedules is the shift necessary in today’s economy that would decrease cancellations and increase pt compliance. We are seeing many people furloughed on Fridays. We have doubled our RDH staff on Fri from 1 1/2 to 3 full-time staff to accommodate our patient’s work schedule because they are hesitant to take time off from work due to these pay cuts. Also, sending an “Oops” letter after the first failed appt and then following through on charging a fee on the next failed appt inspires fewer pts to cancel. Mon is a notoriously high cancellation day anyway.
    The second shift is to focus on quality customer service for the pt and continued staff education. Yes this is a business, but this is not business as usual anymore. Pts are becoming more savvy about their dental care and asking more questions. With the research now available on the perio/systemic link, any appt less than an hour is detrimental to the pt. Pts can also tell when they are being ‘rushed through’ a cleaning for the sake of profit. They do not see the efficiency for themselves in a shorter appt time.
    If one has a passion for his/her profession, watch the profits follow! On the other hand, profits do not sustain a lasting passion, only a temporary one.

  • Kim C

    The six figure hygienist, doing prophies in ten minutes. What a hero!? Would love to see her example of an oral cancer screen, perio chart, FMX, arestin placement, oral camera use in building the practice, use of lazers for SC/RP pts. Home care instructions, bleaching, practice building techniques through-pt rapport.(I think I would feel more like a robot, hey thats an idea.) What a waste of profession. I urge the talented providers out there to guard against this behavior, even in these tough times, our pts still desire top quality professional service and care!!!

  • Joyce W

    It has long been proven that the hygiene department is the heart of the practice. Treatment found in the hygiene chair is what keeps the practice stable. Patient/hygienist relationship is a profound way to keep patient understanding the important of their recall appointments. I used to work clincially and now am an office manager. In our office it is a team effort to keep the hygiene chair full and therefore produce needed treatment for our family of patients. Follow up is essential because people have a lot of places they can spend their available funds… where do you want them spending their money? Make friends with your patients and let them know you care.

  • Karen Junek

    Kellie, I wouldn’t be bragging about your 30 minute adult appointments. You may be bringing in a 6 figure income but are your clients getting the best care? Not every client needs the same amount of time spent with them but in order to complete everything that an RDH has to complete 30 mins is definitely short changing the client!
    Hopefully your clients don’t compare appointments with friends and family.

  • Heather

    I’ve been a hygienist for about 3 years now, and i must admit i feel im undertrained. I enjoy my work and the patients i treat but i’m not getting the full experience of being a hygienist. In this office we NEVER perio chart,we don’t do FMS, Hardly ever refer perio pts. out office, and NO sealants. Basically it is a prophy mill! I have not been happy with this situation for some time but with the slowing economy and lack of job openings in this area now is not the time to leave. I truly want to be the BEST hygienist i can be and provide my patients with the best care..

  • Lisa

    I’m an RDH with 20 yrs experience. I also run a consulting business focusing on hygiene productivity. My clients have hygienists that consistently produce $3000/day. It works in all practices, in all areas of the country. This involves no more work on the dentist’s part. You can visit us on Facebook. We are Profitable Practice Solutions. You may also contact us via email at We will help create a win-win situation between the DDS and the RDH. Everyone will make more money, have less stress, and the patient will be better served. I started this business because I constantly heard how unproductive hygienists were, and how hygiene was a loss leader. I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be this way. I personally produced almost $600K last year, WITHOUT an assistant. It can be done. It also alleviates boredom and burn out. We can turn your practice around, even in this economy! Please contact me if you’re ready for some positve change.
    Lisa, RDH in NY

  • Tomika

    Will all the real Hygienists please stand up! Everyone else, take a back seat, because that’s what you are doing to your patients with 30min appointments.

  • Cindi

    I have seen a great decline in dental hygiene jobs and hours cut int he Philadelphia area. With working part-time and also temping I have learned a lot from different practices an how well they are run. Also have been in the business for 25 years. I don’t believe in prophy mills, but hygienists can do more if they have the back up. Offices that have their front desk trained to keep schedules filled have less resentment towards hygienist. Also there are too many assistants hired that stand around that can be developing x-rays, helping clean rooms and contributing to hygiene productivity. All hygienists should be encouraged to keep a good perio program going, suggest 3 month recalls, and educate patients. Education is the key to getting patient compliance. You really don’t need to oversell dentistry, just being honest and stating the facts is what makes patients want to comply. Compassion and understanding a patients financial status helps too. Personally if patients state they cannot afford perio treatment, I try to find alternative, like 3 month recalls. Also hygienists should do a thorough restorative pre-exam for the dentist without diagnosing. This helps the dentist when he has to run from room to room checking hygiene patients, plus it helps with the dentists credibility that he just didn’t find a cavity in 5 minutes. Patients see suspicious areas written down by hygienists then dentists either confirm or watch these areas. Same goes for crowns etc. Hygienist should not just be tooth cleaners and paycheck grabbers. Help out your Doc. Also don’t sit a read a magazine when there’s no patient. Go clean a room or help out the assistants. I am a hygienist and I’m saying this. My dad was a dentist so I see both ends of the spectrum.

  • Cindi

    Its me Cindi again. Also I have worked with 2 kinds of hygienist. Those that pick and polish, do nothing when they don’t have a patients, and then there are the work horses who make hygienists look like heroes. All I am saying is if you want to make a good living, well then you should work for it. Unfortunately too many dentists have encountered the slackers and that makes all of us look bad. Amen

  • Dentist Marketing Solutions

    Unfortunate as it is, it seems the route to take when a company is experiencing difficult times, especially when that is what the consumer is doing, cutting out what they feel is less needed, like regular dental appointments, to make things work.

  • Toronto Dentist in Etobicoke

    My team has worked hard to maintain hygiene days. We’ve dipped down from 22 to 20 per week. Not a big loss.

    Cosmetic and Reconstructive are in the crapper, but that’s another matter.

    Joe 😀

  • Zjodiz

    I am a hygienist that has been with the same dentist for 16 years and she relys on me as her #1 in patient care and help with treatment planning. She has searched and searched and can not find a decent associate. Talk to me when you find a website named I’m still searching for that one….

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