The changing demographics of the dental field could bode well for laboratories. There are more general practitioners and prosthodontists, more dental consumers and fewer laboratories. In other words, the potential client base per laboratory is growing.
Here's a look at the shifting demographics between 1998 and 2011:
The number of laboratories declined 12.5%, from approximately 12,000 to 10,500. The number of GPs and prosthodontists increased 17%, from 133,623 to 156,011. This means the ratio of dentists to labs increased from 11:1 to 15:1.
The ratio of adult patients (20 years or older) to dentists increased from 1,441:1 to 1,466:1.
Further analysis of patients 45 years or older—the most likely sector of the population to receive restorative work—shows an increase of 36% during this timeframe. In 1998, there were 686 patients for every dentist; in 2011, the ratio was 796:1.
And going forward, it seems these trends will continue:
The dentist population is expected to increase; seven dental schools have opened within the past two years and several others are expanding their programs.
Many dentists now plan to work eight to 10 years longer than previously planned to be able to afford a comfortable retirement, according to the 2012 Dental Economics/Levin Group Annual Practice Survey.
The baby boomer population continues to grow: by 2030, the over-65 crowd will expand to 72 million people, up from 40 million in 2010.
The dental laboratory market will continue to shrink. More than half of all laboratory owners are over 55 and 40% plan to retire in the next decade.
The Elephant in the Room: If ever it was important to keep our eyes wide open, it's now. The rapid growth of group dental practices could offset some of this market potential, especially among group practices that have their own on-site laboratories or purchase based on price alone.
Female Dentists on the Rise: Another demographic shift is the growing number of female dentists. Between 1998 and 2011, the number of professionally active female dentists—which includes GPs, prosthodontists, specialists, dental school faculty, armed forces and other federal services—has risen a whopping 92%, compared to only 4.5% growth in male dentists. Now representing 24% of the dental workforce, female dentists are more likely to work part-time and tend toward general practice rather than focusing on a specialty area.
Sources: ADA Surveys of Dental Graduates and Distribution of Dentists in the United States 1998-2006; ADA Dentist Supply in the U.S., 1993-2011; and Population Estimates Program, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau.
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