Dentists in Oregon: Floss Your Way to Freedom

by Kale Donnelly

June 20, 2018

Did you know that in 1994 an inmate in West Virginia used his dental floss to escape his cell in prison? Braiding 48 strands of mint-flavored, waxed dental floss in to a rope he won his notoriety as a real-life Spiderman and enjoyed a hefty 41 days of freedom. Now, proper dental hygiene can get you out of a few unfavorable situations, but for the vast majority of people these boil down to less felony-related issues such as gingivitis and tooth decay. Still, the advice we hear from our local dentists on the benefits of using floss seems to have taken a different direction with this story.

Going to the dentist may not be what most people look forward to, but these professionals and their services are integral to a healthy lifestyle and clean set of pearly whites. So, let’s give these professionals the occupational highlight they deserve.

Becoming a Dentist

The road to becoming a dentist can be a long and trying one, yet many aspiring dentists-to-be take on the strenuous pathway to helping others maintain a healthy smile. At the end of the 2017 scholastic year, 70 new graduates in Oregon donned the white coat as they earned their Doctor of Dental Medicine Degree (D.M.D.). While the number of graduates has remained fairly consistent over the last eight years, there seems to be a shift in how many of those graduates are women. Previously accounting for only a quarter of graduates in 2013, women most recently made up 40 percent of those walking across the stage in 2017. More women in Oregon are taking an interest in the profession and pursuing the degree to become a dentist.

Currently, there is only one school in Oregon that provides a dental program, and that is Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). With a 47-month program, students are armed with a plethora of knowledge through classroom teaching as well as hands-on clinical experience. Interested in reading more on the program? Visit OHSU’s DMD program here.

Does Population Growth Drive Demand for Dentists?

If more people live in a certain area, wouldn’t that yield a higher number of dentists employed to serve that population? Usually, we would attempt to answer this question by looking at the ratio of dentists to resident population by county or workforce region. However, many dentists set up their own private practices so they aren’t covered by the unemployment insurance system, which just so happens to be where we get the best quality data on occupational and industry employment. Other dentists work for more established dentists as associate dentists, or in hospitals, clinics, and research facilities. But, they’re only one piece of the pie. So, to better answer this question we’ll look at the industry, Office of Dentists, to see how employment in this subsector tracks with population and total nonfarm employment growth.
Looking at the year over year growth rates for these variables tells us a few things. The employment in dentist offices seems to track pretty closely with the rest of Oregon’s nonfarm employment. Second, population growth rates are still trending upward, so it’s possible that both nonfarm and dentist office employment growth will pick up again. Given the fast-paced growth in our statewide economy in recent years, the latest annual growth rate seems to be more sustainable and point to the mature expansion phase we’re currently witnessing in the business cycle. So, it’s possible that it may be a while before this subsector sees high year-over-year growth rates such as 3 percent.

The sharp peak in 2015 stands out, though. Interestingly enough, the Affordable Care Act mandated that children must be provided dental coverage, and this policy kicked in back in 2014. The requirement wasn’t extended to adults and the “purchasing” of insurance plans that included the mandatory dental coverage for children was optional, although insurance and dental coverage still increased within that timeframe. Therefore, it’s possible that this increase in coverage led to an increase in the demand for dental services, leading to an increase in the employment of dental hygienists and dental assistants to meet that demand. Given the fact that 2014 and 2015 were some of the strongest employment growth years Oregon had seen, it’s fairly disingenuous to attribute the majority of dentist office employment growth to the ACA requirement. At a bare minimum, this subsector is mirroring the state’s employment growth, and it appears that greater populations do indeed demand greater access to dental care.

Perks as Real as Those Pearly Whites

The perks to being a dentist can be as attractive as all of those healthy smiles. A pretty decent work-life balance (especially when compared with other health-care occupations), the ability to become your own boss and own your own practice, a phenomenal median pay of nearly $190,000 a year in Oregon, and a national projection of a 16 percent increase in employment from 2016 to 2026. To put that in perspective, the national average projected change in employment is roughly 7 percent. If you’re interested in learning more about the occupation and how to become a dentist, visit our website here.

One last reminder, don’t forget to floss!


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