The market is looking rosy

Just 10 years ago, the dental press was churning out dozens of stories about the dismal state of the dental marketplace. Dental schools were turning out too many dentists. New dentists were struggling to find jobs with existing practices, and having even more trouble creating their own solo practices in dentist-saturated areas. Many established dentists were struggling to maintain their patient load while battling rising overhead costs. Third parties, including managed care, were beginning to ba

Dental professionals in the class of 1999 won`t have trouble finding work.

Bruce Henry

Just 10 years ago, the dental press was churning out dozens of stories about the dismal state of the dental marketplace. Dental schools were turning out too many dentists. New dentists were struggling to find jobs with existing practices, and having even more trouble creating their own solo practices in dentist-saturated areas. Many established dentists were struggling to maintain their patient load while battling rising overhead costs. Third parties, including managed care, were beginning to barge into the traditional doctor-patient relationship.

Things have changed dramatically. Despite the continuing turmoil caused by external factors such as third-party payers, the current economic situation has helped the profession tremendously. The class of 1999 - roughly 4,000 new dentists - will find it much easier to establish themselves in their own practices or as associates in existing offices. Most positions will result from the need to replace the large number of dentists projected to retire.

Now is a great time for dentists to begin their own practices. The truly good news is that demand for dental care will continue to grow substantially well into the next century. Today`s elderly have far more teeth than previous generations, and they are more dentally aware. They will need care. Baby Boomers, the first generation to grow up with fluoride from birth, will continue to demand quality dental care for themselves, their children, and grandchildren. The emphasis on cosmetic procedures, combined with new technology that eases the discomfort of dental care, will continue to entice patients into the dental office.

Consider the job market for dental professionals.

> In many markets, general dentists are in short supply. Rural areas continue to need dentists although many state and local governments offer attractive packages to lure dentists to them. However, general dentists also are needed in many of the most attractive larger cities. Why? Because 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.

Specialists do not exist in the numbers and availability necessary to meet today`s demands. True, specialists historically have had a better selection of where they want to work, but today the candidates have even more freedom to determine their futures. Today though, 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.

> Positions for dental hygienists are expected to grow faster than in the past. There are roughly 150,000 hygienists in the United States. More than half of all dental hygienists work part-time and many work in multiple offices, a trend that will continue. Attempts to draw more men into the profession generally have not been successful. All things considered, dental hygienists will be able to find employment almost anywhere they look.

> Job prospects for dental assistants will continue to be very good. There are roughly 215,000 assistants in this country. One in three work part-time and many work in more than one office. Employment opportunities for assistants are expected to grow much faster than other occupations, mainly because the proportion of workers who leave the profession and must be replaced is above average. Many new opportunities exist at the entry-level, although there is tremendous ability to move up as well as improve salary and benefits.

> Growth in lab tech positions should remain stable. There are roughly 50,000 dental laboratory technicians, most of whom work in privately owned commercial labs with fewer than five employees. About one in seven technicians is self-employed. Many other technicians work in their own homes and keep other jobs to augment income. Employers will continue to have difficulty filling entry-level positions because of the low wages offered. They also will continue to encounter problems as experienced employees leave to start their own laboratories.

The Internet is changing the job hunt

The method of pursuing dental positions has undergone dramatic shifts. Traditionally, there have been two ways to fill positions - networking and the classifieds.

Networking is effective and cost-expedient, but tends to be limited and is only as good as the "vine" you`re traveling.

Classified ads in journals can be effective, but those seeking jobs cannot sit around waiting for monthly publications to arrive. Also, hundreds of offices and organizations present themselves in a confusing array of adspeak. Many ads require that candidates respond to a post office box.

The late 1990s have seen the rise of two new ways for dentists to find jobs - executive search firms and the Internet.

Executive search firms have long been used in other industries, but have just now made the foray into dentistry to help fill the abundanced of positions. Only a handful of companies specialize and understand the unique needs of the dental community. They are worth investigating. Generally, the office or organization seeking a dental professional pays a predetermined fee to the search firm, and the firm then makes hundreds of telephone calls to potential candidates. Two to three are selected and presented to their client. It is an effective and timely process.

Perhaps the most underutilized vehicle for locating quality dental staff is the Internet. Again, other industries have been using the Web to locate and attract staff for years. For example, the well-known "monster board" boasts thousands of job listings, including many within the health-care industries. However, a search conducted several months ago on the monster Web site showed 184,551 jobs available, including only six dentist positions - all with the U.S. Navy. This already has begun to change.

The Internet clearly is becoming the way to find a dental position. Imagine a centralized employment Web site where job seekers can post their qualifications, educational background, interests, even photographs of themselves and their families. The site could change periodically as new information or new ideas are added. The ad would be relatively inexpensive to post - compared to print ads - but it would reach tens of thousands of dental-job seekers in the United States and the world. This is not the recruitment process of the future. It is here!

The need to find employable dentists is only a part of the employment puzzle. Dental hygienists, assistants, and laboratory technologists also benefit from a comprehensive dental site. Not only would these professionals be able to look for new positions on the Net, but they also can post their availability, their requirements, and other information for prospective employers. Dentists seeking staff can be served best in the search by turning on their computers.

The possibilities are not limited to opportunities within the dental office. Other positions could be listed for dental product manufacturers, professional dental societies, and teaching appointments at dental schools.

Indeed, the rosy future for the dental profession and the new ways to seek employment are providing job-seekers with new opportunities never seen before in dentistry. It`s a very good time for the profession!

More in Practice