What is a temporary dental hygienist?

If you are considering working as a temporary dental hygienist or hiring a temp for your dental office, you may have a few questions. Let us shed some light on exactly what a temp hygienist is, why they are needed, and what they do!

A temporary dental hygienist is someone who uses their skills within different dental offices. Sometimes they work a single shift; other times a temp may be on a longer-term assignment of several months or more. Either way, they are responsible for providing excellent patient care. Temps need to be able to jump into a new office setting and deliver care up to the standards of any given dental office. The most successful temporary dental hygienists are not only great clinicians but also flexible and adaptable dental providers. 

Why do dental clinics use temporary dental hygienists?

9 in 10 dental practices who were recruiting staff reported it as extremely or very challenging. American Dental Association (2022, October 1). Dental workforce shortages: Data to Navigate Today’s Labor Market.

Hiring temporary dental hygienists is growing as a solution to the challenge many practices have recruiting full-time staff.

Dental hygienists provide essential care for patients, including health assessments, preventative care, and education. When hygienists are not available, dental clinics have a reduced capacity to serve patients, leading to fewer appointments and longer waiting times for patients.   

Dental clinics use temps for many reasons. The most common is to cover times when their own staff aren’t able to work. A temporary dental hygienist may be needed to cover:

  • Short-term absence due to illness or family emergencies
  • Long-term absences due to vacation or maternity leave, and
  • Open positions. 

There is a stronger need than ever when it comes to recruiting and hiring dental professionals. A poll from the American Dental Association shows that of the dental

offices polled, 37% are trying to fill open hygienist positions. Of those offices, 78% noted that it was challenging to fill those open roles (ADA, 2022). While offices are on the hunt for their next full-time dental staff member, they still have patients who need appointments. Temporary hygienists help fill this gap for an office and keep the practice running smoothly.

Some offices use temporary hygienists because they have an endless list of patients who are due for recall visits. These offices may schedule an additional temp hygienist to see more patients and effectively clear their backlog.

What is it like to work as a temporary dental hygienist?

How does a day in the life of a temporary hygienist look? Working a temporary shift is very similar to working a regular shift at a dental office. When you break down the day, hygienists spend 45 minutes of every hour doing what they do best: clinical hygiene. At any office, they’ll spend most of the time assessing perio health, providing oral hygiene education, and cleaning teeth. 

The other 15 minutes of each hour will vary from practice to practice. Each office operates a little differently, from how the doctor does their exams to the routine for sterilizing and turning over an operatory. These variations are usually easy to adjust to and can be a great way to learn new best practices. 

Going to an office you’ve never worked at before can feel intimidating. Temporary hygienist shifts are usually scheduled to start 30 minutes prior to the first patient to help get acclimated. The office will use this time to show the hygienist around and get them up to speed on what they need to know for the day. They’ll cover where the room is, how to access the schedule, an overview of their software, and any other nuances to their particular office. 

One of the best parts of being a temporary employee is what happens at the end of your day. If you are a full-time employee at one office, you know that the work doesn’t end when the last patient walks out the door. There are garbages to empty, operatories to close down, orders to be placed, trays to prep, etc. As a temp, while you can certainly offer to help with these tasks, it is not expected. It is nice to know that if your schedule ends at 5 pm, you will be leaving soon after.


Which dental offices use temporary hygienists?

Temporary hygienists have the opportunity to work with a wide variety of clinics. There are traditional private practices and corporate offices but the list goes beyond that. Temps can pick up shifts at community clinics, high-end prosthodontic offices, fee-for-service practices, and specialties. There are even mobile clinics or targeted dental programs (like those that go into schools or even prisons) that use temporary help. Beyond different types of offices, you can also do different types of hygiene. Many hygienists are most familiar with traditional hygiene: you run the show for the appointment, from taking x-rays and updating health history, to scaling and polishing the teeth. 

Some clinics run things a little differently. Temps may have the opportunity to work in a clinic that uses a hygiene assistant to run an accelerated or assisted hygiene schedule. This is when someone, traditionally a licensed dental assistant, will split patient care time with the hygienist. The assistant will update health info, take necessary x-rays, and assist during the doctor’s examination. The hygienist will only be responsible for cleaning the patient’s teeth. These types of schedules mean you are able to see more patients in a day, perhaps even twice as many. It is a fast-paced experience that many hygienists enjoy.

How temp agencies connect dental professionals and offices

Some hygienists work as independent contractors and develop their own list of offices that may use them as needed. This does take a lot of time and effort to manage the taxes and insurance requirements to stay compliant. Independent contractors take on more risk if they are injured on the job or have an accidental needle stick. Because of this, the best-practice is for hygienists to be classified as employees with temporary staffing agencies to find offices that have available shifts. 

Traditional Dental Staffing Agencies

Historically, temporary dental staffing agencies have relied on a manual process where an office would call the agency to fill a shift. Then the agency would contact a list of professionals, searching for someone who was available. In the last few years, mobile apps and online platforms, like Kwikly Dental Staffing, have improved the efficiency of temp agencies. Agencies offer different features and services for clients so it’s important to work with an agency that understands the unique needs of dental hygienists, assistants, and offices. 

Modern Dental Staffing Agencies

Kwikly Dental Staffing’s app and office platform were built from the ground up with the needs of dental professionals and offices in mind. The app makes it easy for temps to select open shifts that match their availability and location. App users also see a robust shift details section and reviews about offices. Our temps are able to feel comfortable and confident even when walking into a new dental office for the first time. This creates an easy temping experience with all the information and functionality needed for a smooth shift. In addition to the intuitive technology, Kwikly has a designated support team to make sure our offices and temps are completely satisfied.  

Before a dental professional joins a temporary staffing agency, they should consider the onboarding process, support, and reviews. Some agencies have an interview and vetting process to ensure the quality of dental professionals while others do not.  When a hygienist applies to be a temp with Kwikly, they will automatically get a link to schedule an interview. Kwikly’s onboarding process, from applying to working the first shift, can happen in as little as a week. 

The possibilities are endless for temp hygienists. Temping opens new opportunities for flexible work schedules, increased earning potential, and new experiences that develop your professional skills. If you are interested in starting your temping journey, apply to Kwikly Dental Staffing to connect with our talent team. 



    1. ADA Health Policy Institute in collaboration with American Dental Assistants Association, American Dental
      Hygienists’ Association, Dental Assisting National Board, and IgniteDA. Dental workforce shortages: Data
      to navigate today’s labor market. October 2022. Available from: https://www.ada.org/-/media/project/adaorganization/ada/ada-org/files/resources/research/hpi/dental_workforce_shortages_labor_market.pdf