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Shortage of Dentists in Utah

There is a shortage of dentists in Utah.

Recently I received an urgent call from a non-dentist practice owner. He was very anxious and concerned. His practice has a nice office with all of the latest equipment, nice décor with an inviting feel, and a friendly, educated staff. The office has enough patients to keep a dentist busy four days a week and is in a strong location with great visibility for attracting new patients. Well, what’s the problem? The owner has been unable to hire a dentist to work in the practice.

When a shortage of dentists in an area begins to become acute, the first sign is that the non-dentist owners can’t find a dentist to work in their facilities. Dentists who are seeking employment prefer to work in a practice with an existing dentist or in an office wherein a dentist owns the practice.

Five years ago, you could place an ad for a part-time dentist. Within 48 hours you would have 15 inquiries from dentists seeking additional employment. Today, if you run the same ad it may take about a month to get 2 inquiries from dentists.

This is very good news for practicing dentists in Utah. Fewer dentists in the area providing patient care will allow those in practice to be more productive generally. Many dentists have reported how they are incredibly busy and are working more days in their offices to meet patient needs. This is the best time in many years to be practicing dentistry in Utah.

What is causing the shortage? Lets evaluate what happened in a neighboring state a few years ago.

A growing economy in Arizona saw the licensing of approximately 200 new dentists annually. The state then announced that two new dental schools would be opened. Within a short period of time, the number of new dentists being licensed dropped below 100 new licensees each year for the next several years. New dentists were not coming into the state fearing that because of the new dental schools there would be an oversaturation of dentists.

A similar situation is happening in Utah – two dental schools have opened.

A graduate from an eastern dental school recently visited Utah. When asked how many of the students graduating from his school were from the intermountain area he said about 20% of 120 students. He was then asked how many of the 20% are making plans to practice in Utah? He responded with, “two," himself and one other graduate. Everyone else was headed to Texas, Oklahoma, and other parts of the country. Only two out of about 24 graduating dentists from the Utah area were coming back to their roots! They believed that there would be too many dentists in Utah with the new dental schools so they decided to go elsewhere.

New dentist graduates are not seeing the move back to Utah to practice as their best choice. Thus, fewer dentists are in this market today. Are these dentists correct in their assumptions? Here are some thoughts on why it is a great time to be a dentist in Utah.

Our country recently experienced one of the worst recessions in decades. Many dentists put off retirement because of the instability in the economy and personal loses from their investments. After several years of additional work in dentistry, many have decided to move ahead with their plans to retire. More and more dentists are now retiring in Utah. The median age for a dentist to retire in Utah is 69.5 years of age. That says that half of those retiring are over 69.5 years old! This acceleration in retiring dentists is occurring due to the backlog of those who would have retired sooner.

There is a need for experienced dentists to teach in the dental schools. These schools are taking dentists out of the market by offering them jobs as teachers and administrators within the dental schools. The estimate on the numbers are about 3-5% of the licensed dentists in Utah are now working in the classroom setting in full or part time positions.

An additional thought on the dental schools in Utah is needed. Don’t worry that all these new dentists will stay in Utah to practice. This is far from reality. The dental schools recruit students from across the country and look for the very best. Maybe one-third, or less, of the graduates decide to stay and seek licenses in Utah.

A window of opportunity exists to grow a loyal patient base and develop a successful dental practice. There are jobs for dentists going unfilled. The economy here is one of the very best in the country. The population growth rate is among the highest in the country each year. The quality of life in Utah with lower cost of living and many recreational prospects is a major reason to live here. An established dentist here can move ahead by taking advantage of the opportunities. There are many small practices that can be merged with others to create larger, more successful practices. This is absolutely the best time to be a dentist in Utah! It is the best time for a dentist to locate here to find work or become an owner in a dental practice.

Glen Jensen

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