Steady Growth in Overall Demand
Overall demand for dental services follows U.S. population growth, though a weak economy can cause patients to delay dental visits and treatments. The U.S. population is projected to grow by 8% (26 million people) from 2015 to 2025. More importantly, the population of Americans over 65 is expected to grow by 38% and older patients tend to need more restorative treatments, such as implants, bridges, and dentures. Revenue for dentist offices rose 1-3% annually from 2010-2014 and 4.2% in 2015.
Growth of Cosmetic Dentistry
Dentists have found new revenue opportunities in patients' desire for a "beautiful smile." Cosmetic dentistry, also called "aesthetic dentistry," includes teeth whitening, removable braces to align teeth, implants to restore teeth, bridges, veneers, and other treatments that improve a patient's appearance. By offering services like teeth whitening, dentists can attract new patients who may not have been visiting a dentist regularly.
New Treatment Technologies
Technological advances continue to increase quality, enhance patient comfort, and speed the delivery of dental treatments. Instead of putting in a temporary crown and waiting a week or more for a permanent crown to be shaped at a dental lab, dentists can now use CAD/CAM systems to create a final crown in the office while the patient waits. New pharmaceuticals quickly reverse the effects of anesthesia, providing better pain management options for patients. Digital x-rays and scanners are replacing traditional molds for making impressions of teeth.
Enhanced Preventative Care
Preventative care options at dental practices are also increasing. Early detection of "caries"- the bacterial infection that can lead to cavities- allows dentists to treat a tooth before a cavity is formed. Sealants and fluoride treatments for adults can stem tooth decay and prevent the need for more costly fillings and crowns. New pharmaceuticals can prevent gum disease. And dentists are expanding the use of ultraviolet fluorescent devices for early detection of oral cancer. These preventative treatments provide additional revenue opportunities for dentists, but can also reduce demand for more profitable restorative treatments.
Expansion of Dental Insurance
About 65% of the U.S. population have access to dental benefits through employer-based dental plans and government programs. About 12% of people age 65 and older have dental insurance, according to research at Johns Hopkins. The availability of dental insurance affects how new patients choose a dentist, how referrals between general dentists and specialists occur, frequency of preventative treatments, and reimbursement rates for treatments. While studies have shown that patients with private dental insurance have more frequent visits and higher dental expenditures than those who don't, most dentists have a negative view of dental insurance companies due to claim denials and claims processing delays and costs.
Growth of Large Practices and DSOs
While still a small percentage of the overall dental industry, very large practices with over 500 employees have been growing faster than traditional small dental practices. From 2002 to 2014, the percentage of dental establishments represented by very large practices grew from 1.0% to 3.3% and very large practices generated about 5% of industry revenue. Faced with high student debt, many new dental school graduates are opting to join a larger group practice as a low-cost way to get into private practice. The industry has also seen growth in Dental Support Organizations (DSOs) that handle administrative and financial duties for multiple private practices on an outsourced basis. The Association of Dental Support Organizations (ADSO) reports that its members support about 13,000 dentists who operate in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K..
Employment and Wage Trends
Dental Office Employment Rises
Overal employment by dental offices rose 1.8% in July compared to a year ago, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment rose 2.3% in 2016 and 2.0% in 2015.
Wages for Dental Staff Rise
Average wages for nonsupervisory staff and dental offices were $25.17 per hour in June, an increase of 3.1% compared to a year ago. Wages rose 3.3% in 2016 and 3.1% in 2015.