Demographics Reflect Older Patient Numbers on Rise
Being a member of the “Boomer” generation means that there are a lot of us and we want to live healthy industrious lives as long as we can. From age 60 to 100 can be upwards to 70% or more of the patient base in some practices. The number of older or elderly patients is expected to grow to 68 million by 2025 in this country. According to census data this is an increase of 87 percent from the year 2000. Certainly, these numbers suggest that there is an ever-growing demand for dental services designed for the needs of the older population.
Advancing ages puts many seniors at risk for several oral health related problems such as:
- Dry mouth. Dry mouth is caused by reduced saliva flow from cancer treatments, medications, Sjogren’s syndrome and other related diseases
- Staining and darkening of teeth caused by changes in dentin from eating foods that stain for many years
- Loss of teeth due to breakdown of existing restorations and loss of bone from other missing teeth, chipping and fracturing from bruxism
- Loss of sense of taste from aging and wearing dentures or ill-fitting partials
- Gum disease caused by plaque, ill-fitting prosthetics, poor diets not being aware of changes in mental and physical health leading to poor oral hygiene
- Root decay from exposed root surfaces due to erosion and ill-fitting prosthetics and not having the manual dexterity to be able to clean the area as well as they used to
- Diabetes, anemia and cancer increase as the population ages and can lead to dental problems for the elderly
- An uneven jawbone. This is caused by tooth loss and makes it more difficult to restore the mouth to function.
- Denture induced stomatitis. Ill-fitting dentures, poor dental hygiene, or a buildup of the fungus Candida albicans cause this condition, which is inflammation of the tissue underlying a denture.
- Thrush. Diseases or drugs that affect the immune system can trigger the overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans in the mouth.
Age in and of itself is not a dominant or sole factor in determining oral health. However, certain medical conditions, such as arthritis in the hands and fingers, may make brushing or flossing teeth difficult to impossible to perform.
As health care providers it is imperative that we see this demand and work to meet the needs of the aging population in the following ways:
- Is handicapped parking available at your practice location? If not close by have the patient or driver call you just before arrival so that you can help the patient into the office. Have a wheelchair available also.
- Is there a place to install a wheelchair ramp at the front or rear of your office?
- Are the reception room chairs equipped with arm rests so that the patient can use them to stand? Do you have chairs or sofas that are firm and easy to rise from?
- Do you keep extra pairs of reading glasses handy for those that forget their glasses?
- Do you have a wheelchair accessible table so that the patient can write a check or read a treatment plan?
- Do you have extra blankets and neck pillows available for the patients comfort?
- Do you have for sale electric toothbrushes or other electronic devices that make it easier for seniors to brush their teeth and gums? It would be convenient for them to make a purchase at your office.
- Do you carry mouth rinse products, toothpastes for sensitive teeth, prescription fluoride gels or pastes designed for the particular oral health needs of the elderly?
- Do you spend the extra time with the elderly patient to make sure that they understand the treatment and their options?
- Do you ask if there is anyone else you need to speak to in the family before embarking on a multiple phase treatment plan? Often elderly patients have an executor that will authorize treatment.
- Would senior care centers or assisted living facilities in your area benefit from an educational program on dental care that you could present?
- Do you offer to get water or a beverage for the elderly patient as it is often difficult for them to get up or to carry it without spilling?
A little extra TLC goes a long way with this special group of patients.
Understanding patients at every age and giving them what they want is a key to treatment acceptance.