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10 Key Trends Affecting Dentist Jobs in 2020

By Debra Wood, RN, contributor

The practice of dentistry continues to evolve, and the start of a new decade warrants a look at some of the key trends in dentistry that are expected impact the field in the years ahead.

What does the job market look like going into 2020, and how might dentist jobs be affected by practice opportunities, industry changes and new dental technology?

Here are a few answers, including current research findings and insights from leaders in the field.

10 key dentistry trends and predictions


1. Dentist jobs


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 7 percent increase in dentist jobs by 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations. Their 2018 occupational report noted that the country’s aging population is fueling the demand for dental services.

The BLS reported a 2018 median annual income for dentists of $156,240. However, the American Dental Association’s 2018 Survey of Dental Practice reported an average annual net income for dentist general practitioners of $190,440 and $330,180 for specialists.

U.S. News & World Report ranked dentistry as the fourth best job in the nation in 2019. Researchers gave the profession a 10 out of 10 score for job market and a 9.7 for salary.

A 2019 report from the research firm IBISWorld predicted increases in dentistry income, annual growth and employment.

FIND locum tenens dentist jobs across the U.S.

2. DSOs and practice consolidation

Investor-owned dental service organizations (DSOs) continue purchasing practices, said Bill Barrett, CEO of the law firm Mandelbaum Salsburg in Roseland, New Jersey, and co-author of Buy Sell Merge: How to Navigate Successful Dental Practice Transitions for the Entrepreneurial Dentist.

“DSOs are being used as vehicles for consolidation of dentistry,” Barrett said.

DSOs handle marketing, human relations, training, accounting and other nonclinical functions of a practice. DSO practices are open more hours and enjoy economies of scale for billing and other activities. State regulations in regard to corporate dentistry vary. DSOs have as a principal a licensed dentist who contracts with the DSO and oversees clinical operations.

“Private industry realizes it can make money off dentistry,” Barrett explained. “More and more DSOs are emerging every day and going after as many practices as they can.”

DSOs purchase on earnings, netting the dentist more at closing than selling in a traditional way to another dentist, Barrett said. Additionally, the DSO may offer an employment agreement and incentives.

“It’s a red hot market,” Barrett said.

3. Student debt

Another factor driving the increase in corporate dentistry is dental school debt, which can make it difficult to borrow to set up a practice.

Although 17 percent of the class of 2019 dental school graduates indicated they graduated debt free, 39 percent reported more than $300,000 in student-loan debt, according to the American Dental Education Association. The average graduate’s debt was $292,169.

4. Locum dentistry positions

As the demand for dentists has increased, the availability of locum tenens dentist positions has continued to grow. Locum jobs can enable dentists to check out different practices and regions of the country before settling down. 

Some locum positions are part-time and can allow a dentist to earn extra income to more quickly pay down their student debt, or keep seeing patients without a full-time commitment as retirement nears.

5. Laser technology

Laser therapy is another growing trend in dentistry, and it is being used for multiple applications.

Andre Paes Batista Da Silva, DDS, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Periodontics at Case Western Reserve University School of Dental Medicine, in Cleveland, Ohio, teaches residents about how to use the U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved LANAP laser protocol to treat periodontal disease, eliminating the need for surgery. The laser kills bacteria and is another modality of treatment.

It’s used “around implant and tooth to regenerate the attachments to the tooth,” Paes Batista Da Silva said. “The laser penetrates the tissue.”

Learning the LANAP protocol and how to use the laser can be done during a four-day boot camp, he said.

Dentists also are using lasers to whiten teeth, remove decay and prepare the tooth for a filling. Infection is less likely with laser treatments, and bleeding is less.

Timothy Kosinski, DDS, of Bingham Farms, Michigan, and an affiliate adjunct clinical professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School Of Dentistry, is using a DenMat laser for cleaning, performing biopsies and removing decay.

“With this tool, I can often do things without numbing the patient,” says Dr. Kosinski. “Our patients are responding very positively.”

6. Cryotherapy

Vital pulp cryotherapy, developed at the University of Illinois at Chicago, offers an alternative to root canal for some patients, reported James Bahcall, DMD, MS, FICD, FACD, a clinical professor at the university’s College of Dentistry. Sterile ice is placed on the exposed pulp, lowering the tooth’s blood and nerve supply, which decreases post-procedure pain and inflammation. Then a bioactive filling material and permanent tooth filling are placed. 

“General dentists will do it within the next few years,” Bahcall said. “We’ve been seeing good outcomes by eliminating patients’ pain caused by decay and reducing inflammation and infection.

Additionally, regenerative endodontics also are coming, Bahcall said. 

7. Oral health linked with overall health

Research indicates connections between oral health and overall health, which can create a need for more dentists. Diabetes is one of the conditions that has been linked with periodontal disease.

“It’s very well documented, the association of diabetes and periodontal disease,” Paes Batista Da Silva said. “If you treat periodontal disease, there will be an improvement in the diabetes, better control.”

Additionally, an association has been reported between periodontal disease and coronary artery disease.

“With cardiovascular disease, there are so many associations [with periodontitis],” Paes Batista Da Silva said. “It’s related to the inflammation.” 

8. Patient-focused care

Dental practices are becoming more consumer focused. A good patient experience will keep the patient returning and saying good things about the practice. Some dentists are offering loyalty programs and streamlining appointment setting and the processes to check in and out.

Patients also are reviewing their dental experiences on Internet sites and social media.

“Online review sites continue to rank as one of the most trusted sources for consumers as they make decisions about their health and dental needs,” said Randy Chase, chief strategist at Rocket Chimp, which creates custom digital marketing tools for dental practices. “Now, perhaps more than ever, ensuring your practice’s presence on online review sites should be a top marketing priority as these sites play an important role in search engine optimization.” 

9. 3D printing

As costs for 3D printers has come down, some dentists and dental labs have started using the printers to make crown molds, denture bases, night guards, aligners and surgical guides. 3D printing can produce the items quickly without involving a third party and decrease costs. 

Manufacturers are expecting steep growth in the use of 3D technology for dental applications in the years ahead.

10. The debate about dental therapists

To help meet demand for dentistry in rural areas, some states are allowing the entry of dental therapists, midlevel providers. Dental therapists provide preventive care and perform a narrow range of routine restorative procedures. 

Rural Healthcare Quarterly reports that Connecticut, Nevada and New Mexico passed laws in 2019 to allow dentists to hire dental therapists, joining Arizona, Michigan, Vermont, Maine and Minnesota. Yet Minnesota is currently the only state where dental therapists practice statewide. Dental therapists also practice on tribal lands in Alaska and Washington and in Oregon under a pilot program, and recently became authorized to practice on tribal lands in Idaho.

The article pointed out that “it can take years to create and fund dental therapy training programs and overcome strong resistance from state and national dental societies.”

As with other healthcare professions, the debate about dental therapists and their scope of practice as midlevel providers is expected to continue.

LOCUM LEADERS is seeking locum tenens dentists for full-time and part-time assignments across the country.

Contact a dental recruiter to learn more