It's The Economy, Doctor!

April 22, 2003
How Dentists Survive and Thrive Through Economic Hardships

After basking in the rosy economic glow of the 1990s, many dentists are now weathering the effects of an economy battered by terrorist attacks, impending war, corporate scandals and uneasy consumers willing to put dental care on the back burner. But general practitioners (GPs) who are riding out economic downturns say the crucial thing to remember is that cycles ebb and flow. The key is to have a plan and stick to it, according to an article in the April issue of AGD Impact, the newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

Many GPs say a good attitude, compassion for patients on tight budgets and flexible payment plans are keys to surviving a slump. But most importantly, they say sticking to your ideals and continuing to invest in continuing education are the factors that will cement your long-term success, despite any short-term downturn.

For Philadelphia general practitioner and AGD Public Information Chair David A. Tecosky, DMD, MAGD, "Dentistry is cyclical, just like the economy," he says. "We may not like it, but for most people dentistry is an optional, quality of life issue. When things are tough, dentistry isn't a high priority. People need to eat."

With two offices and 22 years of practice experience, Dr. Tecosky has seen boom times, not-so-boom times and outright recessions. To cope with the down times, Dr. Tecosky switches his focus to those aspects of running a practice that might be ignored when the schedule is packed. The key, says Dr. Tecosky, is planning. "You have to keep your hand on the pulse of the practice all the time because you just don't know-sometimes the craziest things happen. For example, you think things are going to be bad because of 9-11, and all of sudden things get busy. You just don't know." To look at the industry side of dentistry, the profession, while struggling, seems to be on solid economic ground. According to dental industry analyst James R. Ferrell of The Anaheim Group, sales of dental equipment and materials in 2002 beat 2001 numbers by about 10 percent, a good sign that dental practices are doing well.

"The best indicator of the financial state of dentistry is consumables sales, because they are directly related to procedures performed in dental offices," says Mr. Farrell. Consumable sales were up about 8 percent in 2002. But he points out that a drop in dental laboratory orders could mean patients are putting off more expensive procedures.

For dentists just starting out, Dr. Tecosky urges confidence. "I think those guys have a great future. Dentistry is just really geared up for young people right now. We had a golden age in the 90s. There's a platinum age coming."