Home' News Bulletin : ADA News Bulletin June 2016 Contents OPINION
Across Australia, major city areas had the highest number of
practising dentists per 100,000 population (63.1) and remote
areas had the lowest (25.7).* Dentists who participated in the
interviews mentioned that it was growing increasing hard for new
graduates to find appropriate employment in major cities, especially
those cities with a dental school. Melbourne and Adelaide were
pinpointed as particularly difficult. As dentist numbers increase,
the issue of rural dental workforce recruitment may be resolving
as practitioners relocate out of city areas and into more rural areas
to find work. Anecdotal evidence collected during the interviews
certainly suggested this. Rural dentists mentioned they now receive
'cold calls' from prospective dentists inquiring about employment
opportunities when in the past an advertised position would have
attracted little interest.
"...visit any big city and pretty much every street corner has a
dentist now" (Dentist participant)
"The majority of those that can't find full time employment
are those that insist on staying in the metropolitan areas."
"...I, for 30 years used to struggle, I would advertise and I
would get absolutely no interest. ...[now] I was inundated with
applications, you'd only just got to throw, the smallest amount
of bait out and there are just kids everywhere just wanting a
job." (Dentist participant)
The research team examined AIHW dentist workforce numbers and
Fig 3 depicts change over time in the number of practising full-time
equivalent (FTE) dentists per 100,000 population in each of the
five Australian geographical locations. The data available was for
the years 2006, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. The data indicate that
while each remoteness area has had an increase, there has been
a much larger increase in rural areas than in urban areas. In the
most sparsely populated areas of Australia referred to as `remote'
or `very remote', there was an increase of 6.1 dentists per 100,000
population, while outer regional had the highest increase of 10.4
dentists per 100,000 population. Major cities only had an increase of
3 per 100,000 population, while inner regional areas (still considered
urban) had an increase of 9.4.
Fig 3. Dentists by remoteness area 2006, 2011-2014
64.3 63.1 63.1
42.2 41.1 42.7
36.1 38.1 38.3
21.5 21.4 25.0
2012 2013 2014
FTE rate, number per 100,000 populaton
FTE rate of Major cites
FTE rate of Inner regional areas
FTE rate of Outer
FTE rate of Remote/Very
Source: AIHW National Health Workforce Data Set (NHWDS) 2011, 2012,
This data show that there is a 'trickle down' effect in progress due to
the increased supply of dentists. There has been an overall increase
in dentist numbers, with the highest increases in inner regional and
outer regional areas, with the lowest in major cities. The increase
in dentist numbers since 2014 (Fig 1) suggests this trend will have
continued in the most recent years.
Should the market just be flooded with dentists until they migrate
out of urban areas into rural and remote areas looking for work? No,
the problem is much more complex than that.
The dental workforce oversupply may solve any short-term
problems with recruitment in rural areas, but the evidence suggests
there are much more complex factors such as lifestyle and family
concerns that influence rural retention. There is already a 'churn'
of more experienced dentists moving from rural to urban areas
creating a skills shortage in rural areas that can disadvantage oral
health outcomes for rural populations.
Retention of new dentists in rural areas is based on a combination
of the ability to acculturate to the local community, personal/family
satisfaction, and job satisfaction within the rural context. These
factors can be hard to navigate, because rural areas are often at
times unable to provide employment opportunities for a spouse
and local education for children (especially high school). Rural areas
may simply not be able to provide the lifestyle necessities for some
practitioners given their particular life stage. This may mean that
some rural practitioners, despite their desire to, are unable to remain
in rural practice. Further research into long-term retention factors for
Australian dentists in rural areas is required.
Diana Godwin*, Ha Hoang*, Leigh Blizzard‡ and Len Crocombe*†
*A/Prof Len Crocombe, Dr Ha Hoang and Diana Godwin are with APHCRI Centre
for Research Excellence in Primary Oral Health Care and the Centre for Rural
Health at the University of Tasmania.
† A/Prof Len Crocombe is at the Australian Research Centre for Population Oral
Health at the University of Adelaide, is a Federal and Tasmanian State ADA
Councillor, Chairman of the ADA Dental Workforce and Education Committee
and a member of the ADA Rural and Remote Oral Health Advisory Panel.
‡ A/Prof Leigh Blizzard is with the Menzies Institute for Medical Research.
The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of any of these
ADA NEWS BULLETIN | JUNE 2016 | 47
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