Your career is an important issue.What can stop your plans and hopes for the future without notice?   DISABILITY.  Why haven’t we heard of more dentists being disabled?  This is a perfectly reasonable question and the answer has many components. Reviewing the statistics published by many disability insurance firms leads us to the documented fact that one in four practicing dentists will encounter a disabling accident or illness during their working careers. There are 210,030 practicing dentists in the United States at this time.  Today, Dental career longevity is approximately 20-30 years.  If we use the Disability data given to us by the Disability companies, we can easily conclude that over 50,000 dentists will face disability over the next 25 years, not counting dental students or international practitioners. This is an awe-inspiring number.

Approximately 80% of practicing dentists currently have disability coverage according to the ADA.  By using these sources of information, we can KNOW that the majority of dentists will have a disability that lasts for at least 3 months. We use this number because the disability companies do not pay on most policies until after 90 days (standard waiting period). We conclude, the disability companies can only include those policies that require payment of benefits in their statistics. Dentists are not required to report to anyone if they just become ill or are injured. This may be a concern for the malpractice insurance industry in the future. Therefore, the numbers we quoted are accurate and totally verifiable. Disability Insurance companies are for-profit corporations, they depend on accurate disability data to survive. We are shocked by our conclusions and realize the number of disabled dentists is actually huge.

The actual number of disabled dentists therefore excludes three additional categories. The first category is those who are disabled less than 90 days and return to work. Of course, any practice will be seriously effected by a 3 month period of lost production. The second category is those dentists who fail to report their disabilities to the disability insurance company. They may fail to report because of fear, overconfidence in their abilities, or just because they have lost hope and are depressed. The third category is dentists who have very severe injuries from accidents or semi-terminal illnesses and physically can’t report their disability.  By semi-terminal, we mean the illness is very severe and recoverable from a physical standpoint but not from an emotional/psychological standpoint. What does this mean?  The actual number of disabled dentists may even be higher than we quoted.

We understand that dentists are extremely reluctant to let their family, friends, staff, and patients know they are disabled.  This is a function of denial, depression, and a valid belief that no help is available. Dentists are extremely affected by separation anxiety when faced with a disability. They have invested so much of their lives with their practices, staff, and patients that the hopelessness they experience leads to severe withdrawal. Ultimately they frequently drift away and those of us around them hear that they have moved, retired, or just got tired of dentistry.

This must change. By getting the dental community to support those practitioners who encounter disabling events. The only way we can help is if the dentists involved KNOW there are resources available. This will be up to the ADA and individual states to set up effective disability support programs. Disabled dentists still have value, and we should encourage them to use their skills to benefit others and enjoy a speedy recovery.  Every single issue of the ADA News, ADA journal, state dental publications, and professional specialty societies journals should include contact information to access their disability support staff.  They need to have disability support dentists (DSD) volunteers ready to directly contact dental spouses and dentists in need. Only a determined effort on the part of the ADA, every state association, an every specialty organization will make constructive change. We know the current status of disability programs is marginal. WE WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Call your State association and help us implement programs in all 50 States.