Nothing but the whole tooth

by Geddy Sveikauskas
February 03, 2011 11:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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Most people have silly wishes that have great significance for them but don’t mean much to other people. One of mine is to die with all my teeth. I know from where my determination came. My father, who endured a couple of those little bridges of pink, silver and white in his mouth, once told me he was sorry he had ever gotten any teeth extracted. I confess to not taking all his advice, but that nugget somehow became imbedded in my mind.

That doesn’t mean all my teeth are strictly speaking mine. Several of my teeth are dead, since I’ve had several root canals. I realize what has been left has no means of nourishment, and therefore are becoming more fragile every day. Several of my teeth have been capped, which I understand to mean that all but the roots have been removed, that a little metal post has been installed, and that a piece of plastic or some other material has been cemented on top of the post. I’ve been reminded by several conscientious dentists that these arrangements are unlikely to last forever.

Anyway, I can firmly say that I have never consented, despite the constant urging of friendly dentists who think my wisdom teeth ought to be removed forthwith, to the extraction of a mature tooth. I don’t know whether I will die with my boots on, but I intend to die with what’s left of my teeth in. And that’s that.

I tell this story to indicate the fact that dentistry continues to be a changing field. We should be thankful for that. The aging tooth-puller of two generations ago has given way to the sensitive professional who shines your teeth, plays soft music, talks the tooth-technology talk, and if you wish improves your smile.

According to the 2007 federal economic census, there were 428 persons employed in 70 dentists’ offices in Ulster County at that time. These local folks were paid a total of $17 million for their services that year, or just short of $40,000 apiece, a shade below the national average for dental offices. In 2007, there were 143 dentists’ offices in Dutchess County and 146 in Orange County.

In case you’re interested, 825,445 people throughout the nation were employed in dental offices at that time. Approximately one out of every 400 Americans works in a dentist’s office.

In May 2009, the median annual pay among the 7760 dentists in New York State was around $150,000. The 10,760 dental hygienists earned an annual median pay of $67,010, and the 16,160 dental assistants a median pay of $33,990.

Dentistry is an industry of small businesses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about three out of four dentists are solo practitioners. The business census shows that more than half of people employed in dentists’ offices work in offices of three to nine employees. In dentistry, there seems a diminishing return to economies of scale. Only between two and three per cent of all people who worked in dentistry worked for offices with 20 or more persons.

Dentists must graduate from an accredited dental school and pass written and practical examinations; competition for admission to dental school is keen. To retain their licenses, dentists are required to keep their knowledge up-to-date by taking periodic refresher courses. (“At each reregistration, licensed dentists shall certify to the department that they have either complied with the continuing education requirements, as prescribed in subdivision (c) of this section; or are subject to an exemption or adjustment to such continuing education requirements, as prescribed in subdivision (b) of this section.”)

Faster-than-average employment growth is projected for dentistry. Job prospects should be good, reflecting the need to replace the large number of dentists expected to retire.

Ulster County has both older and younger dentists. Older dentists have more experience. Younger dentists have been trained more recently.

To get started in the business, many young dentists buy the practices of older dentists. Some start in multi-dentist settings and either become partners or start their own practices. A very few dentists start from scratch.

It’s been my observation that referral seems the main channel through which people choose their dentist. Frankly, there’s not much good advice I can give in terms of choosing a dentist. The most important factor seems to be feeling comfortable with your choice, and that means different people are looking for different things in a dentist.++

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