Obstacles include shortage of hygienists and assistants, increased diversity of new dentists, generational change in practice preference among topline trends.
The Association of Dental Support Organizations (ADSO) has released its latest State of Dentistry report today, shedding light on 3 pivotal trends anticipated to impact the industry throughout 2024. The report emphasizes persistent challenges in recruiting dental hygienists and assistants, a surge in diversity among emerging dentists, and a generational shift in dentists' practice preferences, with a notable surge in the growth of group practices expected to persist in the coming year.
Titled "State of Dentistry: Economic and Demographic Trends Impacting the Industry in 2024," the report stems from extensive research conducted over multiple years by the non-profit research institute RTI International, commissioned by the ADSO. Since 2018, RTI's comprehensive work, backed by various sources and methodologies, has provided a comprehensive overview of dental industry trends nationwide.
“From workforce challenges and cost pressures to increased diversity and an evolution in how dentists practice, 2024 is already off to a quick start during a time of unprecedented change for our industry. We commissioned this report to provide professionals across our industry with the insights they need to successfully navigate this dynamic environment as we all work to expand access to quality dental care across our nation,” Andrew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the ADSO, says in a press release.
Key trends unveiled in the report include:
• Hygiene Workforce Challenges: The report highlights bottlenecks in dental hygiene programs exacerbating industry-wide workforce challenges. Factors such as program closures, stricter acceptance criteria, and limited available seats have led to a decline in acceptance rates to 25%, down from 31% a decade ago. The Health Policy Institute (HPI) notes that vacant positions in dental hygiene and dental assisting have reduced dental practice capacity by an estimated 10% annually.
Smith emphasizes in the press release, “It’s up to us to ensure the pipeline for dental hygienists and assistants is sufficient to meet the growing demand for allied dental health professions. At the ADSO, we are continuing to work with our partners across the industry to strengthen the employment pipeline for dentists, hygienists, and assistants so every American has access to quality dental care when they need it.”
• Increased Diversity in Dentistry: The report highlights progress in increasing diversity within the dental profession, with the 2022 graduating class of new dentists being the most racially and ethnically diverse in history, with 48% of students identifying as non-white. Women constituted 53% of graduates. Despite this progress, challenges persist, as indicated by an HPI report revealing a relatively stable share of Black students from 2005 to 2020.
“This report shows we are making progress in increasing diversity across our profession,” he adds in the press release. “While there is still more to do, I’m proud to say that dental support organizations are leading the charge, with greater numbers of women and dentists of color choosing DSOs over private practice.”
• Generational Shift in Practice Preferences: The report underscores a transformative shift from solo practices to group practices among dentists. In 2023, only 36% of dentists were actively practicing in solo setups, with the majority opting for group practices. Notably, 13% reported affiliation with a DSO, with younger dentists driving this shift.
“This move from solo practice to group or DSO dentistry, combined with advances in technology, medical-dental integration, and evolving patient expectations, are revolutionizing the industry as we know it – and DSOs are excited to be on the front lines during this transformational moment in our industry,” Smith adds in the press release.
Beyond these headline trends, the RTI report also presents additional insights, including data on dentist supply growth, a decline in dental visits correlating with worsening oral health, a substantial increase in dental school graduates, and an exploration of the cost challenges faced by dentists when establishing new dental practices.
To view the full report click here.
To view the executive summary click here.