The Articulate Dentist - A Blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society

A Generational Transition is Coming

By: Marko Vujicic, Ph.D.

We are at a crucial moment for the dental profession. A fork in the road, so to speak. Several major trends are combining to bring change to the dental practice model. While uncomfortable to many, these changes also bring unique opportunities to elevate dentistry into a new era.

Let’s take a look at the data. Nationally, the percentage of dentists in solo practice has been declining steadily over time, with recent years bringing an acceleration of this trend. For example, in 2001, two-thirds of dentists were in solo practice compared to 53.1% in 2011 and 36% in 2022.1 The latest data for Colorado shows that 30% of dentists are in solo practice. Similarly, practice ownership rates have been declining over time, particularly among young dentists.2 In 2005, 84.7% of dentists were practice owners compared to 73.0% in 2021. Among dentists under age 35, this rate went from 25.4% to 9.5% over the same period.

As practice ownership declines, more dentists are shifting to consolidated dentistry, including dental service organizations (DSOs). Nationally, about 13% of dentists are part of a DSO, with the rate doubling when we look at dentists under age 35.3 Among all Colorado dentists, an estimated 21% of dentists are affiliated with DSOs.3 This trend is likely to continue given practice patterns among recent dental school graduates. The latest data show that three out of ten fourth-year dental students plan to join a DSO.4 For the University of Colorado School of Dental Medicine, a conservative estimate of the percentage of graduates who are currently in DSOs is 18% as of 2019.5 The second and third top schools of graduation for Colorado dentists, Creighton University and the University of Iowa,6 have DSO affiliation rates of 8.7% and 8.0% respectively.5

Overall, dentists, especially younger dentists, are gravitating away from the solo private practice model toward larger groups.

There are numerous factors driving these practice model shifts, including rising student debt,4,7 increased diversity among young dentists (both in terms of more female dentists8 and more non-White dentists9), and changing preferences around work-life balance for young, highly educated Americans.10 On top of these “supply-side” factors, the business side of dentistry is getting increasingly complex as practices must respond to consumerism among patients,11increased technology and data needs,12 and more complicated third-party payer relationships.13 Simply putting up the proverbial shingle is no longer a viable business strategy as it might have been a generation ago. As a result, the business side of dentistry is increasingly being led by businesspeople, not clinicians.

These trends are about to go on steroids. The chart below shows the age distribution of dentists in Colorado versus the United States. On the x-axis is the age of the dentist and on the y-axis is the share of practicing dentists of that age group. What is important to notice—referring to our high school statistics—is these curves are not bell-shaped. There is no “normal” distribution when it comes to age. There are two main groups that stick out: there are a lot of dentists in the 30 to 40-year age range as well as the 60 to 65-year age range. In Colorado, the “baby boomer bulge” is not as pronounced compared to the U.S., but it is still there.

colorado data

Why is this graph important? If we fast forward just five years, the dentists who are 65 today will largely be retired and out of the profession. There will be a sharp drop off in the average age of dentists, and the majority of the workforce will be in their early to mid-career stage. Because baby boomer dentists are so different from the current crop of millennial dentists, there will be a sharp generational turnover in Colorado’s dentist workforce in the next five years. The baby boomer generation of dentists is largely made up of white, male and solo practitioners. The millennial generation of dentists is 50% female, much more racially and ethnically diverse and increasingly practicing in larger groups. I keep mentioning gender and race because they matter when it comes to practice modality. All else equal, there is plenty of research indicating female and non-White dentists are less likely to practice solo, less likely to own a practice, more likely to accept Medicaid patients and more likely to work different hours.1,2,14,15,16 As the generational turnover accelerates in the next five years, undoubtedly we will see a major shift toward large group practice, DSOs and any other form of practice consolidation.

Why is this important? First, local, state, and national dental associations need to pivot to offer value for dentists in a much wider array of practice modalities. This is not easy, as it involves letting go of some legacy products and services that are geared toward solo or small practice dentists. Second, whatever one’s opinion regarding how dentistry is changing, we must accept that it is. There is little that can be done to reverse the trends in practice modality. In fact, the trends are going to accelerate. There are massive market forces at play that are simply unstoppable. Again, the theme here is ‘letting go’. Third, we need to recognize dentistry is heading toward its next era and is proceeding down the road of every other healthcare profession before it, be it pharmacy, primary care, eye care, urgent care or behavioral health. I fully recognize this generational shift causes a lot of angst among established dentists. But, a generational shift brings a lot of new opportunities. It remains to be seen how the current and upcoming demographic shifts will impact access to dental care, cost of care, or dentist earnings and career satisfaction. Half the U.S. population does not go to the dentist in any given year, and utilization disparities by race/ethnicity and age have persisted over the years.17 There is an enormous opportunity to expand the dental care market, grow the industry and bring millions of more Americans into a dental home. The practice model transition could be one aspect that helps dentistry ‘grow the pie’ in the years to come.18


  1. American Dental Association. Solo practice continues to decrease. Health Policy Institute. Infographic. March 2022. Available from: ada/ada-org/files/resources/research/hpi/hpigraphic_solo_practice_continues_to_decrease.pdf. Accessed May 1, 2023.
  2. American Dental Association. Practice ownership among dentists continues to decline. Health Policy Institute. Infographic. March 2022. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  3. American Dental Association. How big are dental service organizations? Health Policy Institute. Infographic. July 2020. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  4. Istrate EC, Cooper B, West KP. Dentists of Tomorrow 2022: an analysis of the results of the 2022 ADEA Survey of U.S. Dental School Seniors summary report. ADEA Education Research Series. Issue 4. September 2022. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  5. American Dental Association. Do dentist practice patterns vary by dental school of graduation? Health Policy Institute. Infographic. July 2020.
  6. Based on Health Policy Institute analysis of American Dental Association masterfile.
  7. Nasseh K, Vujicic M. The relationship between education debt and career choices in professional programs. JADA. 2017;148(11):825-833.
  8. American Dental Association. The dentist workforce – key facts. Health Policy Institute. Infographic. February 2021. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  9. American Dental Association. Racial and ethnic mix of the dentist workforce in the U.S. Health Policy Institute. Infographic. April 2021. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  10. Carter SM. Work life balance outranks an easy commute and paths to promotion In employee values, new survey finds. Forbes. May 13, 2022. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  11. Prasad A. Reputation management for dentists: what makes a stellar reputation. Forbes. April 10, 2023. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  12. Nayyar N, Ojcius DM, Dugoni AA. The role of medicine and technology in shaping the future of oral health. J Calif Dent Assoc. 2020;48(3):127-130.
  13. Burger D. ADA urges dental benefits industry to mitigate administrative inefficiencies. ADA News. August 25, 2020. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  14. Munson B, Vujicic M. Projected supply of dentists in the United States, 2020 – 2040. American Dental Association. Health Policy Institute. Research brief. May 2021. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  15. Nasseh K, Frogner BK, Vujicic M. A closer look at disparities in earnings between white and minoritized dentists. Health Serv Res. 2022; 10.1111/1475-6773.
  16. Nasseh K, Fosse C, Vujicic M. Dentists who participate in Medicaid: who they are, where they locate, how they practice. Med Care Res and Rev. 2022;80(2):245-252.
  17. American Dental Association. Dental care utilization among the U.S. population, by race and ethnicity. Health Policy Institute. Infographic. April 2021. Available from: Accessed May 1, 2023.
  18. Vujicic M. Our dental care system is stuck. And here’s what to do about it. JADA. 2018;149(3):167-169.


Marko Vujicic, Ph.D., is the current Chief Economist and Vice President of the Health Policy Institute (HPI) of the American Dental Association. His extensive resume includes Senior Economist at The World Bank and Health Economist at the World Health Organization. He obtained his Ph.D. in Economics at the University of British Columbia.

The Articulate Dentist is a blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society, providing members with insight into the dental industry, practice management tips, tech trends and best practices as well as Society news and updates.