When many of us think about the future of dentistry, we tend to think of a new material or procedure, much like dental implants has become in the past few decades. This article will address it in another manner.
We will look at the future of dentistry according to the number of dentists practicing per capita. This number is rapidly declining. When we think of the future of dentistry, a decline in access to care is not normally what we think about.
To begin, we must look at the reason why we are expecting this drop off in provider availability. This should occur by the end of this decade, but why? This most likely corresponds to the peak of dentists that we had in this country in the 1980s. It also has to do with the constant rise in population.
Dental schools have a relatively limited number of spaces to train new dentists. The population continues to grow. By design, this is going to make for fewer dentists per capita. Also, playing into this is the rapid decline of dentists due to retirement. The “baby boomer” population of dentists is coming to a rapid close. They are retiring at an alarming rate without being replaced.
With it being known that we are coming to a “dip” in the number of dentists, one must ask what will be the implication. With no action, this is a basic supply and demand problem. Less supply equals greater demand. This greater demand will equal a greater cost to the patient. That is basic economics.
For the beneficence of the patient and profession, what can be done about this. The answer to this lies on several planes of explanation. The two biggest things that need to be looked at are training and access to care. Both of these lie in training the appropriate people for the job.
Dental training programs are expanding. There have been new dental schools opened recently; however, this is not the most efficient way to get more treatment to patients. A dentist can only see one patient at a time.
With the appropriate dental staff, a dentist can treat multiple patients at one time. This is why there is an even bigger increase in the number of hygienists and expanded duty dental assistants in the United States.
Bottom line, dentistry is alive, very much alive. Yet, at the same time, it is retiring at a rapid rate. This could be viewed as alarming, or it could be viewed as a wonderful opportunity. There will be more new dental jobs with great job security to be had in the very near future. It is up to us as a profession to fill, not overfill, these jobs to the best of our ability.