Prepare for influx of seniors!

Oct. 1, 1997
According to statistical surveys of dental practices, the average 60-year-old had seven teeth in 1960. In 1996, the average 60-year-old had 20 teeth - almost a 300 percent increase.

Carol Tekavec, RDH

According to statistical surveys of dental practices, the average 60-year-old had seven teeth in 1960. In 1996, the average 60-year-old had 20 teeth - almost a 300 percent increase.

In the next 20 years, the number of people in the 54-65 age group is expected to go from 21 million to 42 million. The reason: seniors are living longer, are in better heath than ever and demanding better medical and dental care.

The dental practice of the very near future will be composed of a much higher percentage of mature patients. Many of these people will have the discretionary income to pay for extensive treatment, with or without the help of dental insurance. With this in mind, successful dentists need to be prepared to deal with the special needs of older people, both clinically and emotionally.

What services can be expected to increase due to our aging population?

Periodontal treatment for the percentage of the population retaining their teeth for a lifetime can be expected to rise. This will include all aspects of care, from periodontal-scaling and root-planing to grafts and implants. As tests for the detection of periodontal disease become more mainstream, their use will allow dentists to document and predict possible damage before it occurs. Occlusal therapies also will become more accepted as patients discover their benefits.

True nutritional counseling for senior citizens is very often an untapped source of revenue. It is definitely a benefit for that portion of the population known to suffer from nutritional problems.

Treatment for cervical sensitivity and root caries also will become more prevalent. Crowns and fixed prosthodontics will surge as teeth with amalgam and resin restorations fail and require full coverage or extraction and replacement.

Endodontic therapy will climb as worn teeth demand treatment. The declining art of removable partial-denture design and fabrication also will enjoy a renaissance.

Cosmetic dentistry, from appearance-enhancing periodontal procedures to bleaching and beyond, will continue to explode in popularity. Mature Americans will want to look as good as they feel. Dentists who can help make this happen will find their practices expanding.

Many of the treatments des-cribed are not covered by insurance or qualify for only a limited benefit from traditional insurance carriers. In addition, many seniors will not have dental benefits as a part of their retirement packages.

Patients enrolled in managed care DHMOs or PPOs may have very limited benefits; when they do retire, they will likely have no benefits at all. The dental practice of the future will be wise to cultivate an ability to translate the new technology into terms that well-educated, assertive seniors will embrace. Detailed treatment-planning and recordkeeping, along with the ability to present a compelling treatment consultation, will be vital to the success of your practice. Patients who pay 100 percent for their treatment are discriminating consumers.

Dentists graduating today will see an age of "busy"ness and prosperity that will be the envy of their older predecessors. Unlike medi-cine, where many consider an overabundance of physicians to be a problem, dentistry has been able to moderate the influx of new dentists.

Mature patients with many dental needs, high expectations and the funds to pay for what they want will make the dental practice of the next 20 years prosperous and rewarding.

What can a dentist do today to prepare for the influx of senior citizens?

Keep abreast of innovations in the treatment areas mentioned above.

E Hone your skills in communication and treatment-conference presentation. Begin grooming an individual in the office who can become the treatment conference specialist. This person should be knowledgeable in dental terminology and treatment, as well as human psychology. A compelling and sincere treatment conference is the centerpiece of a successful treatment plan and one of the most vital segments in the dental-prosperity puzzle. If you feel that your conferences don?t go well, track treatment accepted and completed for several months and examine your success rate. If your success rate is poor, find out why.

I Don?t jump on the technology bandwagon just to be joining the crowd. Be sure that you and your staff understand how to use the wonderful new gadgets you have purchased before unleashing them on patients.

Carol Tekavec, RDH, is the author of two insurance-coding manuals, co-designer of a dental chart and a national lecturer. Contact her at (800) 548-2164 or at

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