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The Whole Tooth: Private-Owned Dentistry on the Decline posted on 06/30/2023

By Robert Kelley, D.M.D. General Dentist

I remember when I was young, seeing the doctor was much different. I grew up in a small town, and I remember my pediatrician check-ups were with the same pediatrician for my whole childhood. I remember going to the same brown building next to the park with the tennis courts and the “Rainbow Bread” Drive-In diner. I remember every single visit at the doctor’s office always had the same owner/pediatrician, the same nurse (the pediatrician’s sister), the same office layout; in essence, things didn’t really change much at all for all those years. My parents knew the doctor well and the doctor knew my sister and I from all the years she cared for us.  There was an established history there at a privately-owned doctor’s office.

Fast forward to today and going to the doctor is much different. I have not been to a privately-owned doctor’s office in quite some time. Doctor’s visits are all at big hospitals or corporate entities where there are many doctors practicing together in a group setting. There are specialist doctors as well and they all work together to deliver care to patients under the umbrella of a much bigger healthcare entity. It is a much different experience with pros and cons compared to the previous model.  

The world of dentistry has been different than the medical field in that privately-owned dental offices have continued on during this same timeframe. However, things have been changing and they likely will continue to change for dentistry. Due to a host of different reasons which could include economic factors, technology, demographic changes, industry changes and generational changes, the ownership of private practices among dentists is trending down.  

About 85% of all dental offices were private ownership in 2005 compared to 73% in 2021. This trend is most pronounced in the younger generations. In 2005, about 25% of dentists under age 30 were owners, whereas in 2021 this fell considerably to only 9.5%. For the age group of 30-34 years old, there was a steep decline from 55% to 34% in ownership for the same 16 year time period.  

Based on the data, the chief economist for the American Dental Associations Health Policy Institute, Marko Vujicic PhD, expects these trends to continue and likely will accelerate. In many instances these days the owners of corporate dental entities are not even dentists or medical providers. There are definite concerns in the industry with this model of practice as it puts control of management in the hands of people who may not be interested in the ideal and best way of treating patients.
As Bob Dylan sang, “the times they are a changin’…”

So, where do we go from here and how does this change dental care for the future? Well, no one really knows for sure. I imagine like everything it will bring changes that can be both good and bad for patients  and providers alike. My hope is that through all the changes, patients are taken good care of. Personally speaking, I love coming to work every day to my beautiful office in Mt. Hood, and God willing, plan to keep going for as long as I can.



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