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Health Policy Institute reports dentists' earnings remain stable

December 15, 2016

By Kimber Solana

After six full years of post-Great Recession data, it's safe to say that dentist earnings are not bouncing back, according to the ADA Health Policy Institute.
    
A December 2016 HPI research brief shows that, like previous years' research, dental earnings since the early 2000s have been affected by a stagnant demand for dental care, declining payment rates through private dental plans and the recent increase in the supply of dentists.
    
"However, our analysis also suggests that we could be seeing a turnaround, or at least a bottoming out, of the multiyear trend of reduced busyness," according to authors Bradley Munson, senior research analyst, and Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Institute, in "Dentist Earnings Were Stable in 2015," available at ADA.org/researchbriefs.

In 2015, general practitioner dentists' average annual net income was $179,960; $320,460 for specialists; $195,200 for owner GPs; and $132,370 for non-owner GPs. The slight increases in net income for general practitioner dentists, owner and non-owners, along with the slight decrease for specialists, from the previous year were not statistically significant.

When adjusted for inflation, average net income has decreased significantly for all general practitioners since the 2005 peak value of $219,638.
    
The research brief also studied data on busyness. According to the brief, the percentage of dentists reporting they are not busy enough has declined; and dentists are more likely to report that, compared to a year ago, patient volume is up rather than down, according to the research brief.

In addition, new research shows that the supply of dentists is expected to increase in the coming years.

"A recent analysis shows that if current dental care utilization trends continue — and the most recent data show they are indeed continuing — dental spending in the U.S. will not return to the historically high, pre-Great Recession growth levels," Mr. Munson and Dr. Vujicic wrote.

The ADA Health Policy Institute said it will continue to study the dental economy in the coming years to get a better sense of whether the dental care economy is turning around or whether a new normal is entrenched.

"Looking forward, there is significant uncertainty in the general health care environment as well as the economic conditions within the dental sector," the authors wrote.