Increased supply of dentists, flat demand: ADA workforce predictions for 2020-40

The U.S. could be entering a period of expanding supply of dentists and flat demand for dental care, according to a new report from the American Dental Association.

Researchers with ADA's Health Policy Institute updated a previous workforce analysis by incorporating the Census Bureau's "low immigration" scenario of projected population growth, increasing estimates of future dental school graduates and increasing projected retirement rates.

The report authors note that understanding the future supply of dentists only partially answers the question of whether the dental workforce will be able to meet population needs. The issue of provider adequacy is far more complicated and requires more research.

Six key report findings:

1. Per capita, U.S. dentist supply is projected to increase through 2040 even after adjusting for expected changes in hours worked and patient visits tied to dentist age and gender.

2. In 2020, there were 201,117 practicing U.S. dentists, which translates to 60.7 dentists per 100,000 population. Under the ADA's baseline scenario, the unadjusted number of dentists per 100,000 population will rise to 67 in 2040. The new analysis predicts a large increase in the number of dentists relative to the population due to lower population growth estimates.

3. The future demand for dentists will depend on future demand for dental care, the evolution of dental efficiency, and potential changes in the workforce mix within care delivery models. Recent analysis suggests that the demand for restorative dental care will decline.

4. Dental care use among working-age adults is declining, especially among younger adults. However, insurance coverage expansions could lead to increases in demand.

5. Research initially suggested that COVID-19 may result in an increase in retirement rates among older dentists. As of May 2021, this is not the case. Dentist retirement rates have been rising steadily since 2013, and there is no change in this trend tied to COVID-19.

6. The "de-aging" of the dentist workforce will continue, according to the ADA. The share of dentists ages 55 and older increased from 27 percent in 2001 to a peak of 40 percent in 2013-16. This share dropped to 37 percent in 2020 and is projected to decline to 33 percent in 2040.

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