Aileen Boyle gives an insight into how the dental profession is feeling about the business side of dentistry.

The UK’s dental sector is, in many ways, in rude health, with strong demand for good quality, profitable practices in most locations from investors. Our detailed research into the profession’s sector outlines dentists’ views on a range of key subjects, from access to finance to the impact of Brexit on business confidence.

Access to funding and appetite for investment

Exactly half of practice owners polled find it a challenge to access the funding they need to invest in their businesses, despite 60% planning to actively seek finance for business investment in the next 12 months. A further 25% won’t be investing while the remaining 15% are still undecided.

These results challenge the commonly held view that there is a strong appetite to lend from all major funders. With 50% of dental practices feeling the challenge of accessing funding it’s clear that it’s a mixed picture out there.

Q: Thinking about access to funding, is it….
A major challenge 21%
A minor challenge 29%
Becoming easier 17%
Never had a problem 25%
Don’t know 8%

Economic outlook

Dental practices in the UK are best described as ‘cautiously optimistic’ about their prospects for the coming 12 months, with 38% ‘confident about the steady recovery of the economy’ and a further 26% feeling that while the worst is behind us, albeit with a slow path to recovery ahead. One in five feel that the economy could yet decline and 13% are yet to see a true recovery.

Looking at forecasts for anticipated business performance, nearly half (47%) are hoping to expand, which sends a strong message about practice owners’ ambitions. The same number are expecting to tread water with only 3% predicting a scaling down of their operations.

Q: How do you expect your business to perform over the next 12 months?
Expand 47%
Stay the same 48%
Contract 3%
Close down 2%

Business priorities 

Achieving growth is the highest priority for 38% of the UK’s dental practices, which is the highest of all professions; ‘paying down debt’ comes second followed by ‘developing products’ and ‘investing in assets’.

The results should be seen as a positive indicator of the appetite for sustainable growth and the overall financial health of practices in the sector. With only one in 10 firms interested in ‘standing’ still, they are looking to the future with optimism.

Q: What is your main business priority at the moment?
Achieving growth 38%
Paying down debts 23%
Standing still 10%
Developing products/services 13%
Investing in staff 3%
Investing in equipment / assets 12%

Brexit

Much has been said and written about Brexit and the UK’s decision to exit the European Union. With so much uncertainty about what that means for businesses, it comes as no surprise that over a quarter (27%) of dental practices say that Brexit makes them less confident about their future business prospects, against 21% who feel ‘more confident’. The remaining 52% feel ‘the same’.

Q: Does Brexit make you more or less confident about your business prospects?
More confident 21%
The same 52%
Less confident 27%