Robert E. Horseman, DDS
Last summer, the population of the world passed the six billion mark and the number was expected to increase exponentially at the rate of 2.5 people every second, or, if thinking in terms of half people is disquieting, five people every two seconds.
So, is the future bright for dentistry as a profession? It would seem so; at least the raw materials for making a living in dentistry are present. Those of us still around after living through what we like to refer to as the Golden Years of Dentistry (1946-1972) tend to querulously regard the future of our profession with guarded pessimism. Encapsulated in our memories are those halcyon days of fee-for-service, coupled with the cornucopia of eager patients from war-deprived years. Would that we could wave a necromancer`s wand and return to that era of independence, free to conduct our practice sans strictures from third-party bean counters and governmental buttinskis.
Enter Bruce Henry, owner of an executive-search firm devoted exclusively to dentistry. He has some good news for the approximately 4,000 dental graduates of 1999. It will be much easier for them to establish themselves, he says. Instead of coming cap-in-hand to the doorstep of the nearest managed-care clinic, Mr. Henry claims dental professionals won`t have trouble finding work.
Writing in Dental Economics, Mr. Henry advises that now is a great time for dentists to begin their own practices. This is because most positions will result from the need to replace the large numbers of dentists projected to retire. "The Market Is Looking Rosy" is the subhead of Henry`s article. Stimulated to a healthy glow by these felicitous tidings, we learn that "... in many markets, general dentists are in short supply." Not in my town ... but I don`t get out much and Mr. Henry may be right. He goes on to say that "... urban areas are viewed as extremely desirable and, consequently, a flood of new offices are opening and competing with one another for the same dentist pool." Further on, "... the number of first-year enrollees in dental schools is larger than those of the late 1980s, which means a larger pool of dentists in the future."
All this projected bonanza is going to be shared by dental hygienists and assistants as well, so if you were worried about the dental future of those six billion people, Mr. Henry`s exegesis should palliate your fears. The one little niggling doubt remaining in our consciousness is so inconsequential that we hate to even mention it. Mr. Henry leaves us with no mention of finances ... m-o-n-e-y.
Saddled with monumental student debt, lacking rich parental largess, and with no collateral except a `78 VW, how is the average graduate going to enter this rosy future? Will graduates have to grab the life preserver of employment thrown to them by managed care? How many practices are for sale with no money down and a loan that can be serviced by somebody with an already staggering debt? We want to join Mr. Henry in the belief that the future augurs well for dentists. We would like to avoid taking the same route as the medical profession. We hope that somebody will take the buttons off the foils and attack the basic problem of how to get out of hock by retirement time and still be able to enjoy our profession. Otherwise, what`s the point?