Survey: Dentists in Small Practices Are Most Satisfied

An ADA survey of more than 2,000 dentists found small-practice dentists are the most satisfied. Dentists in large practices reported the highest levels of frustration.

Dentists who work in smaller practices report higher levels of job satisfaction, according to a first-of-its-kind survey from the American Dental Association.

The survey results were published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association. Large majorities of the 2,171 dentists surveyed said they were satisfied with the delivery of care at their practice, and most said that if they had to do it over again, they would choose dentistry, even knowing what they know now.

However, only one-third (35.1%) of dentists in large practices said their current practice situation is what they had envisioned when they went into the profession. For solo practitioners and small-practice dentists, the numbers were nearly twice as high (66.7% and 68.0%, respectively). Large group dentists also reported lower satisfaction with work-life balance and clinical autonomy.

“Our study is the first step to understanding what type of practice setting dentists find the most satisfying based on a number of factors,” said Marko Vujicic, PhD, chief economist and vice president of the ADA Health Policy Center, in a press release.

The study’s lead author was Anthony Lo Sasso, PhD, of the University of Illinois.

When it comes to salary, 73.9% of small-group dentists said they’re happy with their salaries, considerably higher than the 57.8% of solo practitioners and 50.5% of large-group dentists who said the same. Dentists in small groups also reported higher satisfaction with their vacation time and benefits.

The study found large-practice dentists tended to spend more time seeing patients than those in solo practice (about one hour per week). Meanwhile, dentists in large practices spent two fewer hours on administrative tasks each week, compared to dentists in solo practices. Dentists in small practices were in the middle, spending one fewer hour than those in solo practices, but one more hour when compared to large-practice dentists.

Still, the study’s authors were quick to cite the limits of their research.

“Although our findings describe dentists’ satisfaction with various aspects of different practice settings, the findings are correlational: we cannot conclude that a dentist’s practice setting actually causes satisfaction or dissatisfaction,” the authors wrote.

Furthermore, they noted that the survey showed each practice type had its own strengths and weaknesses, meaning an individual dentists’ satisfaction might depend on their own personality. For instance, large-practice dentists reported the highest level of satisfaction when it came to flexibility in scheduling hours.

Still, the authors noted the link between dentist satisfaction and patient care and satisfaction and argue this research might provide a roadmap to practice leaders to improve both.

“Given that practice consolidation is predicted to continue in dentistry as more dentists practice in larger groups, future researchers must continue to examine the implications of practice setting for both dentists and patients,” the authors concluded.