The dental labour force comprises dentists, dental specialists and allied practitioners, including dental hygienists, dental therapists, oral health therapists (dual-qualified hygienists and therapists) and dental prosthetists.
The Australian dental labour force in 2006 continued to be dominated by general dental practitioners (67%) and specialists (about 10%). The allied practitioner proportion of 23% was made up of therapists (9%), prosthetists (7%), hygienists (5%) and oral health therapists (2%).
The overall picture is one of small changes in the decade to 2006, with some evidence that the main areas of growth are in the allied practitioner component. Between 2003 and 2006, oral health therapists (OHTs) became much more prominent, a trend that is likely to continue.
There was modest growth in the supply of dentists (including dental specialists) in the decade to 2006, from 46.6 to 50.3 full-time equivalent practising dentists per 100,000 population. Supply was highest in the Australian Capital Territory and lowest in Tasmania and the Northern Territory, with all other States around the national average.
Around 10,400 dentists were practising in Australia in 2006, with four out of every five working in the private sector. The average age of dentists is rising (from 44.4 years to 45.1 years between 2000 and 2006).
Dentists are tending to work slightly fewer hours per week (down from 39.3 hours in 2000 to 38.5 in 2006). This could be the result of an increasing proportion of female dentists in the labour force—female dentists are more likely to work part-time and have career breaks than male dentists. In 2006, about 29% of practising dentists were women.
There were around 1,300 dental specialists in Australia in 2006. Orthodontists were the largest speciality group (39%), followed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons (16%), prosthodontists (13%), periodontists (11%), endodontists (9%) and paediatric dentists (8%).
Capital cities continue to have more dentists per capita than other areas. Between 2003 and 2006, increases in dentist numbers occurred only in Major cities, with falls in Inner regional areas. New dental schools have been established in regional areas aimed at increasing the supply of practitioners there, but the impact of these new schools will not be evident until 2010-15.
There were around 3,100 allied dental practitioners in Australia in 2006. Almost all dental hygienists, dental therapists and oral health therapists were women, while nearly 90% of the 900 or more practising dental prosthetists were men.