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Dentists remain cautious about economic conditions in their practices

Dentists are more optimistic about the economic conditions of their practices than they were at this time last year, but they still are far from being fully confident, according to new survey results.

The ADA Health Policy Resources Center released the fourth quarter results from its Dentists' Economic Confidence Survey, which scored how dentists feel about the economic conditions of their practices on a scale of -100—fully pessimistic—to 100—fully optimistic. In the fourth quarter, the score was -26, meaning that overall, dentists are still pessimistic about economic conditions today in their practices, according to the HPRC report.

When dentists were asked how confident they were in the overall economic conditions of their practices six months ahead, the score was -12. In the fourth quarter of 2012, dentists' confidence in current conditions was -46 and future conditions was -18.

"While these scores represent a small improvement compared to the fourth quarter of 2012, they suggest that, despite the economic recovery, the economic conditions in dental practices remain challenging," said Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., managing vice president of HPRC.

Dentists' net income has not changed since 2009, despite the growth of the U.S. economy, according to an analysis by HPRC this year.

The ADA recently released a report titled "A Profession in Transition," which suggests that the demand for dental care may continue to be sluggish in the coming years.

Flat dental spending will be the new normal, driven by declining dental care use among working age adults.

The ADA Board of Trustees is developing a strategic plan for 2015 titled Members First 2020 that will take into consideration research from HPRC, including economic factors.

"There are definitely new challenges and new opportunities emerging," said Dr. Hilton Israelson, chair of the Strategic Plan Steering Committee.

"We need to really think ahead and take a long-term perspective. The dental care landscape is shifting dramatically, and we need to really help our members—especially young members—by providing practical resources and continuing to advocate for the importance of oral health."