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China Emerging as a Land of Dental Business Opportunity

China’s burgeoning middle class is demanding oral healthcare. A KPMG report estimates that there will be more than 42,000 dental care delivery organizations in China by 2020.
Ed Rabinowitz
PUBLISHED: Thursday, January 12, 2017

Reports indicate that the Chinese dental market is poised for rapid growth.

Entrepreneurial dental school graduates may be heading east to find work, if prevailing market trends bear out. And that doesn’t mean setting up shop on the East Coast – much farther east than that.
 
China, where a growing economy and demand for treatment are fueling growth in the dental care and product market, is on its way to becoming a new land of dental opportunity.
 
Consider there were more than 29,000 dental care delivery organizations in China in 2014 generating U.S. revenue equivalent of slightly more than $4.4 billion, approximately half of which was from the private sector, according to an October 2016 KPMG report, “Commercial Opportunities in the Dental Care Market in China.” At the market’s current growth rate, it’s estimated there will be more than 42,000 dental care delivery organizations by 2020.
 
Those numbers suggest significant opportunity, but the market is not without challenges. A shortage of skilled practitioners and access to quality care are among the most prevalent problems. For example, the number of registered dentists in China nearly tripled between 2010 and 2013 to 130,000. Despite that growth, there was still only one dentist per 10,000 people in 2013.
 
“A lot of Chinese (dentists and dental students) want to travel abroad to learn,” says Robert Ord, DDS, MD, FRCS, FACS, MS, chairman of the Department of Oral-Maxillofacial Surgery and professor at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry. “The problem is that not all of them go back.”
 
Despite those and other challenges, the Chinese dental care market is expected to grow significantly as competition within the market increases.
 
Assessing the Landscape
 
In addition to the shortage of dentists, the treatment rate is low. The most recent National Surveillance Studies of the Population Dental Health, conducted in 2005, indicate that the prevalence of caries in China was 66 percent among children aged 5; 28.9 percent among children aged 12; 88.1 percent among adults aged 35-44; and greater than 98 percent among adults aged 65 to 74. However, treatment rates were as low as 3 percent for children aged 5, and 11 percent for those aged 12.
 
The challenge of reducing those incidences could become more pronounced given China’s 2015 decision to scrap its one-child policy after 35 years in response to an aging population.
 
“I suspect that’s going to bump their birth rate,” Ord says. “There could be a sort of mini-explosion.”
 
But Pei Feng, MD, PhD, a professor in the Department of Oncology and Diagnostic Sciences and director at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry, isn’t sure, given how expensive it is to raise children. However, she says the booming Chinese economy and expansion of the middle class has been accompanied by an increased focus on the importance of oral hygiene.
 
“The older generation of Chinese people previously lacked routine dental and dental hygiene care,” Feng says. “But for many years they were allowed only one child per family, so they really focused on children’s dental care, dental hygiene, and early correction of orthodontic treatment for children.”
 
That growing middle class, says Yen Li, public relations manager with Oral Care RBU Communications, an affiliate of Proctor & Gamble of Greater China, is increasingly demanding professional oral care.
 
“They care more about their health and quality of life, and chase forward-looking and revolutionary knowledge and products,” Li says.


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