Dental challenges of the ageing population

ageingJulian English talks about the importance of adapting to the changing needs of the ageing population.

In a sister print publication – Laboratory magazine – we ran an article talking about the laboratory needs of the patient demographic of the future. More and more patients are from the older cohorts.

The author spent quite some time talking about old people and their changing role in society.

There is no doubt about it that the ageing population poses dental challenges. Those challenges are changing. The ageing population are just as conscious of the aesthetics of their teeth as the younger patient cohorts. In a decade or so, the ageing population will be larger than the young population.

Falling birth rates have combined with increases in longevity, with the result that older people make up an increasing proportion of the population (Thomson and Ma, 2014).

Number of edentulous patients are falling

Numbers of edentulous patients presenting are steadily falling, say Thomson and Ma (2014). It can safely be assumed that retention into old age of at least part of the natural dentition is increasing in developed countries like the UK.

Private practitioners should be ready for this. The ageing populations have good disposable income from investments and pensions. So they are in position to afford these treatments.

Please remember that the most common oral conditions among older people are tooth loss, dental caries, periodontitis, dry mouth and oral precancer/cancer. These all can compromise older people’s quality of life. Additionally, they will be presenting in increasing numbers to the practice.

Also, it can be argued that the unplanned, crisis-driven and incremental loss of teeth as we age presents more of a problem for the profession. The piecemeal loss of teeth can result in the drifting of adjacent teeth. Also, the over-eruption of opposing units, thus complicating prosthodontic rehabilitation at a later date. And good luck with occlusion through an ageing condyle.

Challenges in oral care

Steady increases in both the absolute and relative numbers of older people—together with increases in tooth retention into old age – pose particular challenges for the oral care system. The other oral conditions are important.

However, dental caries remains by far the greatest clinical challenge faced by those treating older people. The dental profession will have to be equipped to meet the dual challenges. The challenges of treating and preventing the disease in a group which is usually hard to reach.

Also, one which has not enjoyed much attention from policy-makers to date, at least where oral health is concerned.


This article first appeared in Private Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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