While health and functional status are dynamic and variable, people are living longer and the expectations of their lifestyles and their health are changing.
On the other hand, there are subgroups of older adults who do not have access to necessary dental services. These groups include the frail and functionally dependent elders, also described as vulnerable elders. The literature suggests that older adults who are poor, do not have insurance, are edentulous, do not believe they need care, do not have a regular source of care, have transportation difficulties and cannot get the office or clinic, have difficulty communicating with the dentist or staff, belong to ethnic or minority groups, have “special needs” and/or have functional and cognitive impairments are less likely to have access to needed dental care.
The “Access Triangle”, describes three factors essential to any successful access program, including:
- An adequate workforce who is willing and able to provide dental service.
- Effective demand for care by the target population.
- Favorable economics that allows both the patient and practitioner to participate.
Thus, current barriers to improving access to care by older adults include the education and training of the dental workforce, the extent to which older adults understand and perceive the importance of oral health, and consequently, demand dental care, the capacity in our current system of dental care delivery; and the degree to which private or public financing is available to support the delivery of dental services.
Why is Geriatric Dentistry Increasingly Important?
The demographic profile of the United States is changing, and the total number and proportion of persons age 65 or older have increased dramatically from 1990 to the present. The population of the United States, including the older population, is becoming more ethnically and culturally diverse. the average life expectancy at birth in the United States is 77.7 years, the estimated average life expectancy of a woman in the United States is approximately 20 years at age 65 and 17.2 at age 75.
While health and functional status are dynamic and variable, people are living longer and the expectation of their lifestyles and their health is changing. Has the professional embraced and incorporated this demographic shift into the various aspects of dental practices, including marketing and organization and delivery of services? For example, do we propose dental treatment plans with life expectancy data in mind?