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Dentists concerned about economic recovery

Dentists remain concerned about the economic conditions in their practices.

This is according to third quarter results from the ADA’s Dentists’ Economic Confidence survey, conducted by the Association’s Health Policy Resources Center. The HPRC collected responses from more than 1,600 dentists, who were asked to indicate their feelings about net income, gross billings, appointment times, treatment acceptance rates, overall economic conditions and plans to hire new staff in their offices.

Based on survey results, the HPRC creates two indices of economic confidence on a scale from -100 to 100. The index scores reflected an overall picture of dentists’ confidence in various sectors both today and six months from now.  A score of 100 would be achieved if no negative responses were received, while a score of -100 would be the result of no positive responses.

In the third quarter, dentists’ responses created an index score of -28, a drop of 11 points from the second quarter. Confidence for the future, six months from when surveyed, was scored at -12, a decrease of 15 points from the second quarter.

Dr. Jeffrey Cole, member of the Council on Dental Practice’s Subcommittee on Economic Issues, joins HPRC staff members and outside experts on the dental economy who have said dentistry is experiencing a downturn independent of the one the country as a whole has felt. The recession has exacerbated what was already happening in the dental industry.

“It seems that this survey confirms what dental economists have been suggesting; there are negative economic trends in dentistry, which seem to be independent of the recent economic downturn. We see a decrease in confidence when looking at areas such as the number of patient visits and dentists’ incomes. These are the same areas that have been identified as trending downward, according to recent research findings, even in years prior to the economic downturn,” Dr. Cole said. “This suggests that even when the economy makes a full recovery, we have to be cognizant of the fact that not all identifiers related to dental practice economics, which have been trending downward, will reverse themselves in the same manner as the overall economy. Practicing dentists need to plan
accordingly.”

Among some of the survey findings:

• The aspect of dental practice viewed most negatively by respondents was open appointment times. More than half felt negatively about open appointment times today and nearly 36 percent felt negatively when thinking about open appointment times six months ahead.

• The biggest change between second and third quarter survey results was in perception of treatment acceptance rates. More than 38 percent reported a negative response in the third quarter, an increase from the nearly 33 percent in the second quarter.

• Younger dentists felt more optimistic than older dentists. More than 38 percent of dentists under 35 felt positively about their net income today and more than 46 percent felt positive about it six months out. Nineteen percent of dentists 65 and older felt positively about their net income today and nearly 23 percent felt positive six months in the future.

Member dentists can download the full report free at www.ada.org/freereports. Others can purchase an electronic version of the report (DECS3-2012D) on adacatalog.org for $50.

A course at Annual Session promises to shed light on whether the effects of the recent economic downturn are temporary or whether there are other long-term forces at play. Has the Economic Downturn Changed Dentistry Forever? (course 5307) will be presented from 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Oct. 18. There is no fee for the course, and participants are eligible to receive 2.5 continuing education units.

Image: Economic Perceptions Chart