Dentists to raise fees, exit family practices as patient volume stagnates, experts predict

Patients delaying dental care amid the pandemic will likely trigger increased patient fees, job cuts and fewer family practices, experts told USA Today.

Patient volume remains about 20 percent below usual levels, according to the American Dental Association. It's not expected to rise soon, with dental care spending projected to fall up to 38 percent for 2020 and 20 percent in 2021, according to the ADA.

About 15 percent to 20 percent of dental patients say they won't visit the dentist until there's a vaccine or proven treatment, said Marko Vujicic, PhD, chief economist and vice president of the ADA's Health Policy Institute.

If patient volume remains at current levels for the next few months, dentists say they'll seriously consider raising fees, cutting jobs or selling their practices, according to the ADA.

"I do think we will see additional layoffs and some exits in the market," said Dr. Vujicic. "It's suggesting to me that it's not a sustainable situation."

The ADA estimated that the average dentist is spending an extra $15 to $20 per patient related to COVID-19 prevention, and dentists can't see as many patients because of the extra time needed for cleaning and spacing out patients.

Brandon Couillard, a Jefferies stock analyst who tracks dental providers, said the pandemic "will make it more difficult for the single office practitioner to remain economical."

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