Practice Management

Female dentists are more diverse, get paid less than men

By Melissa Busch, associate editor

January 27, 2022 -- Female dentists in the U.S. are more diverse in race, ethnicity, nativity, and spoken languages than their male colleagues. However, they also report significantly lower annual incomes than male dentists, according to research from the State University of New York (SUNY).

The diversity of female dentists may help improve access to dental care but may also come at a cost. Female dentists reported mean annual incomes 25% lower than those of male dentists, concluded the researchers from SUNY Albany's Oral Health Workforce Research Center.

"One of the most concerning findings of the study was the income gap between female and male dentists, which cannot be explained by controlling for personal and work characteristics," wrote the authors, led by Dr. Simona Surdu, PhD, co-deputy director of the Oral Health Workforce Research Center ("Evaluating the Impact of Dentists' Personal Characteristics on Workforce Participation," Oral Health Workforce Research Center, December 2021).

Currently, about 50% of dental students in the U.S. are women. This shift has led to questions about how gender may affect the distribution of the dental workforce as well as its capacity to meet the needs of underserved populations.

To assess the variation among dentists in workforce participation patterns related to certain personal characteristics, the researchers evaluated data from the 2014-2018 American Community Survey. Of the 148,878 active dentists included in the study, 31.1% were women. From 2009-2013, about 25% of active dentists were female, the authors wrote.

Female dentists reported mean annual incomes of $157,509, while male dentists reported incomes of $210,097. Roughly 37% of female dentists earned $100,000 or less compared with 25% of male dentists, and female dentists age 35 to 44 were 1.7 times more likely to have lower incomes than male dentists of the same age.

In addition, female dentists were more likely to be employees (55% vs. 34%) rather than owners. They were also more likely to work less than 30 hours per week (13% vs. 9%) and more likely to work part time if they were under the age of 65.

The decision to work part time may be at least somewhat related to child care, the authors noted. In prior studies of dental students, female dental students were more likely to be involved in child care than male dental students. In addition, this study found the likelihood of working part time increased with the number of children in the household.

"Those with 2 children were 1.5 times as likely, and those with 3 or more children nearly twice as likely, to go part-time as dentists without children," the authors wrote.

Female dentists were also more likely to be racially and ethnically diverse than their male colleagues. About 60% of female dentists were white, non-Hispanic, in comparison to 78% of male dentists.

Furthermore, female dentists were more likely to be foreign born and bilingual. About 36% of female dentists were bilingual compared to 20% of men. Moreover, 33% of female dentists were foreign born compared to 19% of male dentists.

Though the income gap appears to remain, dentistry may be closer to diversifying its profession and becoming more representative of the U.S. population. This may in turn benefit underserved communities because access to care improves when providers mirror the race and ethnicity of patients, the authors noted.

"It is encouraging that change in the gender composition of the profession is accompanied by other dimensions of diversity that directly reflect trends in the U.S. population," the authors wrote.

In this study, female dentists were more likely than male dentists to work in settings other than a dentist or physician office (2% vs. 1%). That figure reflects other trends found in prior research that suggest female dentists are also more likely to treat more publicly insured patients and are more likely to suggest early prevention strategies than restorative interventions.

"Thus, the growth in numbers of women in dentistry may benefit the capacity of the delivery system to meet the full spectrum of needs within the population and the growing and changing demand for services," the authors concluded.

NIDCR highlights need to improve health inequities
Healthcare professionals need to recognize and address disparities that lead to worse oral and overall health for some racial and ethnic populations,...
Dental salary survey finds higher wages, office turnover
Overall wages for the dental industry have increased, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, according to a survey released by DentalPost on January...
Can unbiased hiring help fix the pay gap?
October 21 is Latina equal pay day -- the day when the average annual pay for Latina women working full-time equals what white, non-Hispanic men earned...
For richer, for poorer: FQHC pay differs for dentists, execs
Numerous dentists work in the demanding public sector environment of federally qualified health centers (FQHCs). These providers work on challenging cases...
COVID-19 crushed the income of female dentists
The COVID-19 pandemic affected the income of all dentists in 2020, but female clinicians took a much bigger financial hit than their male colleagues,...
Catalanotto: Dental therapy is key to oral health equity
Dental therapy can improve access to high-quality, safe, and cost-effective care -- and, eventually, boost oral health equity, according to Dr. Frank...

Copyright © 2022

Last Updated np 1/27/2022 10:37:38 AM

5 comments so far ...
1/27/2022 2:02:59 PM
Do we need to clickbait in a professional forum? 
I would have led off with the diversity following the title, but more could have been done to discuss the wage discrepancy as it could appear to some that the reason, at first glance, could be that the insurances are paying them less, which is not true.
Sadly, we are in a time when seemingly anything like this could be misconstrued as inflammatory.
I would have written it as such: "Female dentists: more diversity; less work, less income"

1/27/2022 3:31:35 PM
Dr Margaret Scarlett
This is really not new news. Dentistry is great for women because you CAN have flexibility in your work hours, enhancing work-life balance. Which, by the way, is also important for YOUNGER male dentists, according to survey data of dentists. True, SOME women with young children may work a bit less, if they opt to have children; some of us don't have that option with our debt load. It does balance out, since women dentists tend to work longer over time in their career, compared to their male colleagues, who opt out earlier for retirement and the golf course.
A growing skill for women is learning to negotiate and develop business acumen, something not taught in dental schools. When comparing skills between female and male dentists, they are equal, even though pay has been lagging for female dentists, for decades.  To stop that, my message to women dentists is "DON'T sign that contract right away;" Rather, NEGOTIATE your compensation so that you can get back that 20% less that is often offered, or better, in negotiations.  Don't ever sign the FIRST contract that you get, whether in a private practice, DSO or in education. NEGOTIATE! I can't tell you how many of my female clients regret signing those first contracts, often moving to another practice to even out any pay discrepancies they discovered from their male colleagues. Over the last ten years, I have helped dozens of women dentists negotiate fair contracts. Right now, it is even easier for women to negotiate both pay and working hours, since there is such a staffing shortage in practices and DSOs, especially for some specialties.       
And, by the way, learning to talk about your accomplishments is a very important skill for women. It's not bragging, it is owning your worth. More women can submit abstracts to speak at conferences, co-author papers, be a moderator of dental programs or be on the editorial board of dental publications.  Ever counted the ratio of male to female speakers at conferences? I have, and it is nowhere near half, which is the percentage of female graduates coming out of dental school. ASK! I also offer coaching for women to write and prepare presentations, so you can be confident in this.    
In dental education, women dentists are paid less, often tracked into non-tenure track positions much more than their male colleagues. Just say NO! For THOSE entry level positions!  While at entry, pay seems nearly equal; over time, it means that promotions, pay and retirement benefits look a LOT different between males with tenure, and females without tenure. Representation at Department level and higher is still vastly male dominated; hopefully, future reforms in policies in dental school promotion boards (and including women in more women as Primary Investigators in research grants) will level the opportunities for women. For now, I don't advise women dentists to go into dental education. I have been told too many stories of gender bias lurking in the hallways of dental schools, recently. Bottom line: Dental practice is still the best place for women dentists to provide oral health in the community, now and in the near term future. You have more control over your pay and hours. Just like their male colleagues. Now, let's just get equal pay for equal work, isn't THAT fair?      

1/27/2022 5:38:40 PM
Very misleading……start a practice, charge what you think you’re worth.

9/27/2022 2:19:51 AM
sedation doc
tlanders—-excellent answer! We had a public health dentistry professor, Max Schoen, who in dental school told us to give up our hopes of having our own practices and that we would all be working for HMO dental clinics. We also had a lecturer, Kraven Kurtz—inventor of the invisible braces for Hollywood stars, who told us to go out and practice the best we could and charge what we thought we were worth. Thank God Kraven was right! And I had a wonderful forty year run as a sedation dentist.

9/27/2022 2:27:45 AM
sedation doc
Excellent reply Dr. Scarlet. You were telling the female dentist to “think like a man”. Which is what they really need to do.
I have followed us this over the last 20 to 30 years. The ADA journal or the ATA newsletter used to regularly have an interesting statistic each month or two. It typically said that female dentists work fewer hours than male dentist, which is great for flexibility especially if you have a family. Also, female dentists were typically not practice owners in which practice ownership is the road to greater income. They didn’t have a statistic for what you talked about, negotiating tactics, which leads to a higher income. But I absolutely agree with you that I am more confident and forceful negotiating leads to greater income. I get tired of the bellyaching by people who proclaimed that one statistic, total income, represents discrimination. Quite often there’s a lot of underlying reasons such as what you brought up and what I brought out. Thanks for a great reply!