The ongoing labor shortage has impacted many kinds of businesses in New Jersey, and now we get word it’s causing problems for dentists and their patients across the Garden State.

According to Jim Schulz, the director of governmental and public affairs for the New Jersey Dental Association, there are more job openings in dental offices than there are people to fill them.

“It’s not easy to have someone who’s trained as a dental assistant or a dental hygienist or even an associate dentist who would otherwise be interested in working,” he said.

Schulz said this has been a growing problem since the start of the pandemic.

“What that’s resulted in is backups within dental offices," he said. "We just don’t have the folks to be able to help do the work so those offices are backed up and stacked up.”

Big tooth and dentist mirror
artisteer ThinkStock

How bad is it?

“I know some offices that have literally thousands of patients backed up on routine hygiene work just because they can’t get hygienists and dental assistants to help with the work.”

In emergency situations, dentists prioritize patients in pain.

Schulz said the dentist may be in the office but there may be no dental assistant.

‘The dental assistant is really that person with the dentist when they’re performing the work, whether it’s a surgical extraction of a tooth, whether they’re filling the tooth.”

Dentistry. Dentist in face mask portrait. Dental clinic.
primipil GettyImages

A big slowdown

He explained when a dentist doesn’t have a dental assistant it slows down the entire process.

“You just can’t kind of move around as quickly as you need to with a patient, and you need to make sure that there’s good patient safety,” he said.

Schulz said the dental hygienist does teeth cleaning and an initial review of the mouth so “when we don’t have a hygienist in the office that work needs to be done by the dentist."

He said this means if you call your dental office “you may see that appointment you wanted to get in a couple of weeks is now a couple of months.”

He pointed out if you have a teeth cleaning appointment you made months ago, it could wind up being changed.

“The reality is that the office can only see so many patients and treat so many patients every day, and if there’s not a fully staffed dental team that slows the entire process,” he said.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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