2010 Dental Overhead Benchmark – Our Observations – What has Changed?

We’ve started the process of compiling our dental practice benchmark statistics based upon 2010 data and the initial results compared to five years ago are a little surprising to us. Since 2005 the US economy has gone through a downturn, a recession by most standards, and we were curious to see how that may have impacted the benchmark statistics for dental practices. We know that over the past five years there’s even more technology that practitioners are buying and using (i.e. new dental equipment and computers.) We’ve summarized some of our preliminary findings and provided commentary as to why we believe these changes have occurred. You can take the dental overhead benchmark survey here.

1. Revenue:

So far the mix of dentistry to hygiene production has increased in favor of the doctor, which means 76% of production is dentistry while 24% is hygiene. Five years ago it was 75%-25%. The surprising statistic though is the adjustments or write-offs. Five years ago the “average” practice was writing off 13% of their gross production and it’s increased to 17%. The main reason for our surprise is that during these last five years we’ve seen an increase in practices attempting to reduce or eliminate their PPO participation. That said, certainly the recession may have “forced” some of those practices back into PPO participation and we’re also seeing practices providing more incentives or discounts for cash paying patients.

2. Labor:

This area provided another eye opener. As a percentage of gross production (same denominator we’ve always used in our surveys), total labor expense (wages, payroll taxes, benefits including their education and training) dropped from 26.7% down to 22.7%. Assistants, hygienists and front desk combined showed a decrease while administrative showed an increase, possibly due to the treatment plan coordinator position and other types of positions. Both payroll taxes and benefits have also shown decreases. Another reason is that with the additional “higher end” procedures like Invisalign, implants and full mouth cases, the dentistry production per hour may be higher with the same or lower labor rates. We also know many practices stopped raises at some point over the past three years if not for all three years because of the recessionary trend.

3. Facility Expenses:

Total facility expense actually increased from 4.8% to 6.4%. Rent jumped by nearly 1% and the other costs like repairs, security and utilities all increased as well. We can only surmise that many had their rent agreements already in place as of 2008 and 2009 when the recession hit and we know landlords had no obligation to re-negotiate leases therefore, rent increases continued while procedure fees and revenues either revenues either flattened or declined (revenues). Generally utility costs have been going up following a trend by utility providers to raise their rates.

4. Lab and Dental Supply expenses:

Both lab and dental supplies have dropped by nearly 1% to 5.4%. Five years ago lab was 6.3% and supplies were 6.1%. we suspect lab has decreased in part due to the use of Cerec type machines since we’ve heard time and time again that labs had been increasing their prices. Dental supplies are harder to explain so we won’t even try.

5. Other Costs:

In total they went from 12.7% five years ago to 8.8% for 2010, nearly a 4% point drop. While a few categories increased like collections expenses (CareCredit) and advertising and promotion (practices simply doing more advertising) most of the other categories have dropped. Some of the categories that dropped are insurance, office supplies and postage (more electronic mail), professional services (more owners doing their own bookkeeping and payroll processing), telephone (more cell phones, less answering services, better technology and more competition).

Overall, total overhead went from 55.6% five years ago to 48.8% in 2010 based on gross production. That’s a rather significant decrease that was unexpected.

As we mentioned above, the dentistry to hygiene production ratio increased from 3.2:1 to 3.3:1 and even the hygiene production to their wages increased from 2.6:1 to 3.2:1. Hygiene wages have either held flat or come down in most areas of the country due to the economy and the cost of their procedures have gone up over the last five years. Many practices have used consultants to increase their hygiene department production and to boost assisted hygiene.

While many practices have been hurting over the past couple of years, they have done an excellent job on controlling their overhead. These practices have added higher end procedures and increased profitability within their practices. That’s a great sign for the industry and one of the main reasons we’re seeing more activity from the larger dental corporations buying up practices.

Send your questions to Tim Lott, CPA, CVA at tlott@dentalcpas.com

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