The average dentist currently works to age 74 according to Practice Exchange, the online job and course board.
It’s an extrapolation from US figures that show average retirement age for dentists in 2001 as 64.8, rising to 69.3 in 2011. But it feels wrong. Granted, the US tends to be “ahead” in phenomena like this, and I do know a few dentists who are working into their 70s, but there’s no evidence it’s the norm.
Among them are people who are defined by their work and don’t know what else to do with themselves, but would be interested in a change — I am developing a service for this group — and then there are the more unfortunate people who are struggling to produce enough wealth to retire.
These people often live longer than they think they will. Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that people in their 50s and 60s underestimate their chances of survival to 75 by 20%.
Even if they are not working into their 70s, many dentists in the UK and Ireland are working longer than they expected because they’re so bad at saving. There are five million self-employed people in the UK (with an average age of 46), yet fewer than one in five save into a pension.
A lot of practice owners vaguely regard their practice as their pension pot but don’t know what the minimum size of the pot should be. This can leave them exposed at an age where their mind and body may be failing.
The only way to avoid this nightmare is to prepare your exit plan strategically at least five years in advance. The private dental market is in rude health (even NASDAL practice principals have seen 3% more profit in the past year) and there’s no reason to work longer than you want to.
The vast majority of dentists in the UK are NHS (although more than half plan to leave the NHS within five years), so if you own a fully private practice you’re ahead of the market and you can expect good demand for private practices in the medium term.
Another route is to sell and enter a partnership with a corporate like Dentex that gives you operational support and lets you retain a stake. You have control — unless you leave it too late. Get in touch if you need support, we can help with strategy and tax planning.