More dentists join dental labour force, but only in major cities

The dental workforce is increasingly ageing, feminising, and shifting to part-time work.

The supply of dentists in Australia grew from 46.6 to 50.3 full-time equivalent practising dentists per 100,000 people between 2000 and 2006, according to a new report released yesterday by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
 A copy of the report is available online here.

Capital cities continue to have more dentists per head of population than other areas, with increases in dentist numbers occurring only in major cities. Conversely, numbers have decreased in inner regional areas.

“Supply was highest in the Australian Capital Territory and lowest in Tasmania and the Northern Territory, with all other states around the national average,” said AIHW spokesperson Ms Dana Teusner.
 The report, Dentists, specialists and allied practitioners: the Australian dental labour force, 2006, shows that in 2006, there were about 10,400 practising dentists in Australia, with four-fifths working in the private sector. Of the total 10,400 practising dentists in Australia, 1,300 were dental specialists. 
There were also an additional 3,100 allied dental practitioners, comprising dental hygienists, dental therapists, and oral health therapists—nearly all of whom were women. 
Allied dental practitioners experienced the strongest growth in the decade to 2006, with a particular increase seen in the number of oral health therapists between 2003 and 2006—this is due to it being a new registration category. 
The report found that dentists are tending to work fewer hours per week—down from 39.2 hours in 2000 to 38.5 in 2006.

“This is likely to be due to a combination of the ageing of the dental labour force and the increasing proportion of women in the labour force—older dentists tend to work shorter hours and female dentists are more likely to work part-time,” Ms Teusner said.
In 2006, about 29 per cent of practising dentists were women and almost all dental hygienists, dental therapists and oral health therapists were women. Nearly 90 per cent of dental prosthetists were men.
The average age of dentists in Australia was 45.1 years, up from 44.4 years in 2000.

Two other AIHW dental reports were also released at the same time: Oral health practitioners in Australia 2006 and Oral health practitioner labour force projections 2006–2025.
 In 2006, there were 1,171 practising dental therapists, 674 practising hygienists and 371 practising oral health therapists. Dental therapists were the oldest group among the oral health labour force, with an average age of 42.9 years. The oral health practitioner workforce was overwhelmingly female, with 98.8 per cent of dental therapists, 96.7 per cent of hygienists and 94.8 per cent of oral health therapists being female in 2006.

New South Wales had the lowest rate of practising dental therapists with 3.3 per 100,000 population, and Western Australia had the highest with 13.9 per 100,000. The highest rate of practising hygienists was in the Australian Capital Territory, at 11.3 per 100,000 population, while the lowest was in Tasmania at 1.0 per 100,000 (excluding the Northern Territory who had no registered hygienists in 2006).  Queensland had the highest rate of oral health therapists, with 5.6 per 100,000 population, while there were no registered oral health therapists in Tasmania, the Northern Territory or the Australian Capital Territory.

The large majority (82.0 per cent) of dental therapists worked in the public sector while hygienists practised predominantly in the private sector (92.7 per cent). Two-thirds of oral health therapists (62.0 per cent) worked in private general practice. The distribution of hygienists across remoteness areas was highly skewed towards the more populous regions. Oral health therapists worked the longest week (33.4 hours).

The annual number of oral health practitioners graduating from Australian institutions is anticipated to increase more than 2.5 times, to 335 by 2015.

By 2025, more than half of the graduates for the year (200) are expected to be oral health therapists (an increase of 251 per cent), and there will be an estimated 120 dental hygienist graduates (an increase of 135 per cent) and 15 dental therapist graduates (a decrease of 38 per cent).

Overall, the number of oral health practitioners per 100,000 population is expected to increase by 52 per cent, from 10.8 oral health practitioners per 100,000 population to 16.2 by 2025.

Despite this substantial anticipated growth, the ratio of dentists to oral health practitioners is expected to remain relatively stable. This is due to an anticipated similar proportionate increase in the number of dentist graduates over the same period.


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