Health center seeks to recruit new dental workers

Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 6:18 PM EST
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SOUTH ROYALTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Many dental practices around the region have been dealing with staffing shortages over the past few years. Now, a South Royalton nonprofit clinic is looking to overcome the workforce shortage by recruiting newly minted dental workers.

Inside a training facility at the Center for Technology in Essex may lie part of the solution to a shortage of dental care workers in Vermont. Students there are getting hands-on training to become dental assistants.

“We enroll up to 24 students each year,” said Beth Ladd, who along with Chris Ianni, are CTE instructors.

“We’re doing all we can to sort of supplement it and make sure we have students -- hopefully coming right out of high school -- that can walk right into a job literally the day after they graduate,” added Ianni.

The need for dental care can be found all across the state. It’s part of the reason behind HealthHub, a mobile dental clinic that provides affordable dental cleanings, screenings, x-rays, and sealants to school children in underserved areas of the White River Valley.

“This program is an innovative way of bringing comprehensive health services to a population that otherwise would not receive many of the services,” said HealthHub’s Rebecca Foulk.

The organization recently received a $350,000 grant to improve its equipment and expand its reach with the creation of more clinics. But now that funding isn’t a problem, Foulk says they have another issue. “We’re unable to find personnel to staff, our mobile units,” she said.

HealthHub now has funds sufficient enough to double the dental care it’s providing to the community, but because of the staffing struggle has actually had to reduce its care.

“It’s been frustrating. I mean we have a hygienist one day a week and I mean it’s worked out fine. I just wish we could get someone to be, to provide more care for more people,” said Dr. John Echternach, a supervising dentist with the program.

With a full-time hygienist, the program last year cared for nearly 500 children. But with just a part-time hygienist, they’re on track to reach only about 100 this year. “In this area of the state, access to care is limited for many people. We’re hoping to expand to more care for adults, in addition to the school children that we’ve been serving,” Foulk said.

The CTE program might be part of the solution, along with the state’s only hygienist program at Vermont Technical College.

“We have practices contacting us almost every day that they’re looking for hygienists. When we graduate students, they are ready for the workforce. They can step right into a private practice or public health setting and do what they’ve been really perfecting for the last three years,” said VTC’s Heather Blair.

With so many students entering the workforce, Foulk says they’re hopeful the HealthHub clinics will be able to overcome their staffing struggles. “The program has surmounted challenges in the past, so we feel pretty determined to make a go of it,” she said.