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Health Policy Institute reports dentists' earnings as stagnant

January 11, 2016

By Kelly Soderlund

With five years of data since the Great Recession, the ADA Health Policy reports that dentists' earnings are not recovering.

Since the early 2000s, dental spending has flattened but the number of dentists has increased, resulting in stagnant dentist earnings, 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 "General Practitioner Dentist Earnings Down Slightly in 2014," available at

"Dentistry is a profession in transition. Previous research has shown that a broad set of factors intersected in the early 2000s that started a decline in average dentist net income," Mr. Munson and Dr. Vujicic wrote. "One of these factors is a steady decrease in dental care use among adults that began well before the recent economic downturn and, to date, shows no sign of reversing in any major way. Recent analysis shows that a 'new normal' may be emerging in terms of dental spending, demand for dental care and dentist earnings."

In 2014, average annual net income for general practitioner dentists was $174,780; $322,200 for specialists; $183,340 for owner general practitioners; and $134,020 for nonowner general practitioners, according to HPI. When adjusted for inflation, average incomes have "decreased significantly for all general practitioners since the peak value of $219,378" in 2005, according to the research brief.

The research brief also explores how busy dentists are and average wait times. The percentage of general practitioners surveyed who described themselves as "not busy enough" decreased from 36 percent in 2013 to 34 percent in 2014, although the researchers said the change was not statistically significant.

Specialists who reported not being busy enough decreased from 37 percent to 31 percent in 2014, a statistically significant change.

The average wait time for a patient of record for an appointment with a general practitioner decreased from 9.6 days in 2001 to 4.5 days in 2012 and then increased to five days in 2014. For a new patient, the average wait time decreased from 10.8 days in 2001 to 5.3 days in 2012 and then increased to 6.2 days in 2014.

"Our analysis suggests that we could be seeing a turnaround, or at least a bottoming out, of the multi-year trend of reduced busyness," the authors wrote. "Appointment wait times have increased the past two years after many years of declines, and the percentage of dentists reporting they are not busy enough seems to have plateaued and even declined slightly."

Overall, the researchers report there is "significant uncertainty in the general health care environment as well as the economic conditions within the dental sector."

"A recent analysis shows that if current dental care utilization trends continue … dental spending in the U.S. will not return to the historically high, pre-Great Recession growth levels," Mr. Munson and Dr. Vujicic wrote. "On the supply side, new research shows that the supply of dentists is expected to increase in the coming years. If the dental sector is indeed entering an era of flattening total dental spending and an increasing supply of dentists, this will have important implications for the bottom line of dental practices."