Dentists seeing fewer patients but doing more to retain teeth

Australian private general practice dentists are working fewer hours on average per year, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

‘The time spent working has declined in recent years, after being relatively stable from 1983 to 2003,’ said AIHW spokesperson Associate Professor David Brennan.

‘In 2003, dentists worked an average of 1,713 hours per year, but in 2009, this figure was only 1,564.’

The report, Visits supplied in dental practice in Australia, shows the number of patient visits per dentist per hour is also lower than it has been in the past.

‘While the number of patients seen per hour seems to have now stabilised at around 1.64, it is still lower than it was in the early years of the study period,’ Associate Professor Brennan said.

Per hour, dentists supplied an average of 1.64 patient visits over the study period.  Male dentists—especially those in the older age groups—tended to see more patients per hour than their female counterparts. There was little difference among younger dentists.

The average number of patient visits supplied by dentists per year has also dropped.

‘This reduction was most dramatic between 1983 and 1998, with smaller reductions seen between 2003 and 2009,’ Associate Professor Brennan said.

‘The decline in patient visits has been associated with an increase in the number of services provided per visit. While the number of visits per hour and per year may have dropped, the complexity of the work done during these visits has increased.’

The mix of services provided has also changed over time with increases in service areas such as diagnostic and preventive services, and trends towards retention of natural teeth.

It is important to continue to monitor trends in dentist practice activity in planning for future dental labour force requirements.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 24 August 2011

Further information: Associate Professor David Brennan, tel. (08) 8313 4046

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer (02) 6244 1032