This paper presents findings from the 2009 national dental labour force data collection and explores trends since 2000.
The collection includes all dentists (general dental practitioners and specialists), dental hygienists, dental therapists, oral health therapists and dental prosthetists across Australia. There was an overall increase in the number of dental professionals over this period. Dental therapists were the only group to decrease in number because of the move towards dual qualified oral health therapists.
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.
In 2009, the Australian dental labour force was dominated by general dental practitioners (67%). Specialists made up about 9% of the dental labour force. The remaining labour force was made up of dental therapists (8%), prosthetists (7%), hygienists (6%) and oral health therapists (4%).
There was an increase in the supply of dentists (including dental specialists) in the decade to 2009, from 46.9 to 54.1 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 11,900 dentists were practising in Australia in 2009, with four out of every five working in the private sector. The average age of dentists has increased from 44.3 to 45.2 years between 2000 and 2009. The number of female dentists increased by 89.5% from 2,042 in 2000 to 3,869 in 2009.
Dentists are tending to work slightly fewer hours per week (down from 39.3 hours in 2000 to 37.4 in 2009). This is most likely 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 2009, about 33% of practising dentists were women.
There were around 1,440 dental specialists in Australia in 2009. Orthodontists were the largest speciality group (39%), followed by oral and maxillofacial surgeons (13%), prosthodontists (12%), periodontists (12%), endodontists (10%) and paediatric dentists (6%).
Capital cities continue to have more dentists per capita than other areas. The number of dentists per 100,000 in Major cities was double that in Outer regional areas, and almost triple that in Remote/Very remote areas. Between 2000 and 2009, increases occurred in all remoteness areas, ranging from 9% in Outer regional areas to 40% in Remote/Very remote areas.
There were around 3,800 allied dental practitioners in Australia in 2009. Almost all dental hygienists, dental therapists and oral health therapists were women, while nearly 90% of the 1,000 or more practising dental prosthetists were men.