The Surplus of Dentists

  • by Andy Alas, DDS, DDS
  • Jul 18, 2017, 15:13 PM

I want you to try a little exercise with me. I only ask that you follow along and answer to yourself honestly. No one will ever know how you answer my questions, so you can be completely honest with yourself.

What if I told you I could make your practice gross $4 million the first year? Would you be intrigued? Now, if I told you the second year you would gross $8 million, would you still be intrigued? Let’s try $12 million the third year and stabilize at $16 million per year after the fourth year. After that, you’d gross at least $16 million per year and possibly more.

Now let’s say the neighboring dental practices came to you and complained that your practice’s success is affecting their business. They are much slower than they used to be because of your practice. They ask you to curtail your business so they can be more successful. What would you do? Remember, be honest; no one will ever know how you respond in this exercise. How would you respond to your colleagues? Would you close your business or even slow it down considerably so they could be more successful?

Now, instead of a dental practice, let’s say we opened a new dental school. We’ll admit 80 students with an annual tuition of $50,000 per year. That brings your gross income to $4 million in your first year. In your next year, you’ll have a total of 160 students (80 first-year students and 80 second-year students.) Assuming tuition stays the same, your gross income is up to $8 million per year. Look ahead to your fourth year in this dental school, and you now have 320 students at

$50,000 per year. You are bringing in $16 million in gross income per year.  

Now you approach the dental school and inform them that you are much slower than you used to be because of their dental school. You ask them to curtail their business so you can be more successful. What should they do? How should they respond to you and your colleagues?

Should they close their school down or even slow it down considerably so you could be more successful?

How did you respond above? Did you answer the same in each scenario? Dental schools are in the business of producing dentists. Not necessarily employed dentists.

This is why we are experiencing a surplus of dentists. Dental schools are graduating more and more people. This does not bode well for the future of dentistry as a profession. As was seen a couple of years ago with the closing of Corinthian Colleges, it can get to the point that graduates have no job prospects, but schools continue to produce new graduates. Eventually, you have to close down the schools.

As a student in the 1980s, I remember hearing of several dental schools closing down. Of course, for such a change to have any meaningful effect on the supply of dentists, it could take a generation or more.

With today’s oversupply, it will take at least a generation for the size of the general population to catch up to the supply of dentists, if it ever does. This is not good for dentists in general, but it’s especially troubling for young dentists. 

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