Dental Hygienists: Are They Going Back to Work?

Many dental offices are opening up their doors and welcoming patients back. Promises of strict infection control and proper PPE is giving patients a sense of safety and security. What do dental hygienists think?

Dental hygienists’ still question the reason for the rush. Why not give it another month to wait it out? After all, dental hygienists are working very closely with patients who are not wearing a mask. What happened to, “I wear a mask for you, you wear a mask for me?” It can’t work in the dental chair. The patient is in a supine position with mouth wide open for a period of time, breathing.

This has dental hygienists turning their backs on their careers and saying no way! Most fear that they will not be safe. Some offices are not providing adequate PPE. What about the time in between patients? Are we exposing vulnerable patients? We know many patients don’t tell us what their underlying health conditions are because they don’t think that a heart attack they had 6 months ago has anything to do with their oral health, “What does my health history have anything to do with getting my teeth cleaned?”

I asked dental hygienists several questions relating to our current situation and the responses were as expected. The general consensus was that many dental hygienists I talked to were not coming back.

I went to the American Dental Hygienists’ website to learn more. With information in a constant state of flux, they are now referring people to the CDC website for up to the minute information as of April 27, 2020. You can read that information here.

Most noteworthy, the World Economic Forum reported on April 20, 2020 that the occupations with the Highest COVID-19 Risk are Dental Hygienists. That being said, many dental hygienists did a palm to the forehead and asked, why are we going back so soon?

Patients are skipping to their appointments

Patients are skipping to their dental hygiene appointments

Several dental hygienists I talked to said that every single one of their patients are showing up for their dental hygiene appointments. Probably it is because we have been social distancing for so long that people are literally skipping to their dental hygiene appointments, looking forward to chatting with someone, in person. Plus, patients love their dental hygienists.

There are discussions on social media sites where some dental hygienists argue that we are essential workers and that poor oral health will lead to complications amongst those patients that are already compromised.

In contrast, the other side argues that patients could go for 4 more weeks without having their teeth cleaned, “It’s not going to kill them!” Many hygienists say a prophylaxis during this pandemic is an unnecessary procedure.


The American Dental Hygienists’ Association called on governors to hold off on allowing dental practices to open without the proper PPE. In contrast, practices are opening nevertheless and dental hygienists are asked to come back to work.

Therefore, some of the dental hygienists I spoke with said they are going back because they have to. They have no other alternative means of income. Even though they are going back, many are hesitant. I took a poll and asked dental hygienists their thoughts on going back and these are some of the responses as of April 28, 2020:

“My thoughts don’t matter. I told my boss that it’s messed up that they are picking & choosing whose guidelines to follow: CDC, OSHA, ADA to suit their agenda. I think we can all tell the bottom line is the all mighty dollar and this had made me embarrassed and sad for my profession.”

“I just want the proper PPE so I can help people.”

“I actually called the health department and told them that I couldn’t believe that hygienists, who are exposed to more aerosols than dentists, nurses, etc., are supposed to go to work, while hairdressers, who are exposed to none of the above are still not allowed to work.”

“This is absolutely ridiculous! They don’t want to do surgeries because of the PPE’s yet they want debris and hygienists to be all up in someone’s mouth!”

“I think it was a wreckless political decision brought forth by heavy lobbying. I truly think we are an experiment for contact tracing.”

“I’m glad I live in NY where I think we will not go back for a while. I feel terrible for those hygienists torn between going back to work or losing their jobs and unemployment.”

“I really would like to go back to work until I know we are not getting hit again with a peak of the virus. I really do not feel safe.”

“We need at least another month for this to die down before return to work.”

My final question was:

Are you comfortable going back to work as a dental hygienists?

5.88% said “Yes, I am going back into dental hygiene but I am hesitant.”

5.88% said “Not sure what to do.”

29.41% said “No, I am hesitant.”

23.53% said, “Nope.”

39.29% said, “No way! Are you bonkers? I’m out!”

Links to the guidance:

Are you a dental hygienist? Are you going back to work? How is it going? Share your thoughts.

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