Facebook pixel STLCC Dental Hygiene Graduates Are in Great Demand

STLCC Dental Hygiene Graduates Are in Great Demand

Participants in dental hygiene career fairFrancesca Bonuchi is about to graduate from St. Louis Community College-Forest Park and enter the workforce. She’s not worried about finding a job.

Like almost every sector in the United States, dental hygiene has seen a fundamental change since the start of the pandemic. With numerous people leaving the female-dominated profession for health safety concerns or to care for school-aged children learning remotely, a large hole was created that STLCC is helping fill.

Bonuchi and her classmates visited with dental clinic representatives at the inaugural dental hygiene program’s career fair April 28.

“It’s really cool that you’re able to have your five minutes of time to talk to somebody and get to know the office. It’s pretty interesting,” Bonuchi said. “It’s helpful to me because I’m able to get a feel for their office, their personality. Any questions I have, they can answer it.”

Kim Polk, the dental hygiene program director, established the career fair because she’s been inundated over the past two years from dental offices asking to get in front of her students. The local market had traditionally been tight, but about six years ago, the only other dental hygiene program in the eastern half of Missouri closed. The only available new hygienists in the St. Louis area, therefore, graduate from STLCC.

Throw in the significant resignations and the College accepting fewer students into the program because of pandemic protocols, there aren’t as many hygienists available. So great is the need that within about 24 hours after reaching out to potential dental offices, the fair nearly reached capacity.

So, it’s not as if the graduates this May aren’t going to have plenty of options as to where to start their careers. But that wasn’t the point of the fair for Polk.

“Our graduates are going to be gainfully employed without me doing this,” she said. “This was a way to bridge out to the community.”

Great Demand Equates to Higher Wages
The idea of having to recruit for hygienist is new to the industry. Traditionally there have been more than enough available that dentists could offer them jobs without benefits and pay around $10 less an hour than hygienist are commanding now.

Not anymore.

Those now entering the industry can demand hours that are convenient – either full- or part-time work – are receiving higher than ever salaries and even receiving sign-on bonuses. It’s not the same world that Brittney Short, division director of hygiene support for Aspen Dental, came into when she started as a dental hygienist in 2010.

“When I came into the field out of school, I had to work part time as a hygienist and part time as a waitress because there were no jobs. It was just saturated,” said Short, who was at the career fair seeking to fill approximately five hygienist positions for Aspen’s nearly 20 offices in the St. Louis area. “The amount of hygienist that are in need, right now, it’s just wild.”

It can almost exclusively be attributed to the pandemic.  

“Once the pandemic hit, with the change in the workforce, with people retiring, people cutting back on their work, the need has gone up substantially,” Polk said. “In the course of the past year or two, I have literally received hundreds of offices reaching out to me. In the previous 10 years, I probably didn’t have 10 offices.”

Hygienists Now Coveted
June Van Meter, a regional manager with Pacific Dental, said the competition for hygienist now can’t be compared to even just a few years ago, let alone in 2014 when she entered the industry. She said it’s not uncommon for a hygienist to get a job offer for exactly what he or she asked for, including a signing bonus, only to not show up to work because another dentist office offered an even better salary.

That’s because less than a decade ago, dental offices seeking a hygienist would get dozens of resumes in for an opening. Now, Van Meter said, they’re lucky to get in three or four.

What everyone agreed on is that the biggest difference between now and the pre-pandemic years is that hygienist are more coveted and more appreciated than ever before.

“The face of dental hygiene is changing,” Van Meter said. “They’re empowered more. They’re more respected now by clinicians, especially. To me, it’s super important.”

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