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Economy still slow but dentists help patients get through tough times

The economy continues to be poor and continues to affect dental practices, but dentists also continue to respond to their patients’ changing needs.

IMAGE: Dr. Zust
Dr. Zust
This is according to the third quarter results from the American Dental Association’s Survey of Economic Confidence. An executive summary paired with the survey, conducted by the Association’s Health Policy Resources Center, describes the results as unfavorable but consistent with the perception of the general economy.

“The downturn in the third quarter results is similar to that of previous third quarter results,” according to the summary. “However, the drop in confidence this year was more severe than last year. According to most economists, the U.S. economy is growing, but at a very slow pace, and survey results are likely a reflection of that.”

Nearly six out of 10 of dentists who responded to the survey said their net income in the third quarter was lower than in the second quarter. About three in 10 said it remained the same.

Dentists dealing with decreased income, gross billings and collections are also seeing patients with their own hardships. But many who responded to the survey said they are trying to help their patients continue their care, despite limited resources.

IMAGE: Dr. Knapp
Dr. Knapp

“Dentists always try their best to be supportive to their patients, no matter the circumstance,” said Dr. Mark Zust, chair of the ADA Council on Dental Practice. “But the state of the economy and its effects has become a shared experience for many. Given the strain on their own business and income, dentists can understand what their patients are going through and are doing what they can to help.”

Nearly two-thirds of dentists said they extended treatment durations to help patients pay for care. Fifty-four percent of respondents offered their patients third-party financing to pay for their care and nearly half offered discounts. Dentists also made changes to their businesses and increased their range of services.

When asked what kinds of economic improvements would most help patients pay for dental care, about half of responding dentists said a reduction in unemployment rates. One in four respondents noted issues related to patients obtaining insurance and insurance reform.

Other findings include:

  • Dentists over 65 were more negatively impacted than younger ones. Six out of 10 respondents in the 65 and up age group reported their net income decreased in the third quarter, compared to nearly 54 percent of those in the 25-34 age group.
  • Gross billings decreased in the third quarter for more than 52 percent of dentists who responded. Thirty-four percent indicated no change in their gross billings.
  • Only 12 percent of respondents stated they had more new patients in the third quarter than in the previous one. Almost half of dentists said their new patient index decreased while 39 percent said it remained the same.
  • Dentists remained on the negative side when asked about their confidence in future economic conditions. Around 8 percent were very confident, 41 percent were somewhat confident, and 51 percent were not at all confident.

“Dentists have become accustomed to the lackluster news from the ADA’s economic surveys, but their peers’ responses clearly mirror what’s happening in the national economy,” said Dr. Jonathan Knapp, vice chair of CDP. “It’s important for dentists to remain optimistic and do whatever they can to ease this time for their patients and for themselves.”