Changing Patient Demographics

Technological advances, improved screening tools, and better disease management are among several factors that have led to the expression “sixty is the new forty.” Retirement today often means a transition to a new career as people are enjoying greater longevity. An average American female and male today are expected to live to be 81.1 and 76.3 years of age, respectively (Figure 1).1 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 20.7% of the population will be 65 years or older by 2050.2 These changing demographic trends are similar across most of the globe. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates by the year 2025 that 50 million people live in countries with a life expectancy less than 45 years and today roughly 5 billion people living in over 120 countries will have a life expectancy greater than 60 years.3

Figure 1. Average Life Expectancy in the U.S. for Men and Women.
Image: Average life expectancy in the US for men and women.

Women represent the larger portion of the 65+ age group, as well as the 85+ group, in the US and many other countries.4 Despite the universal appeal of extending our life expectancy, living longer may also bring health complications that can negatively impact overall well-being in those later years. Women are more susceptible to certain chronic diseases as they age,4 and recent studies suggest periodontal health may play a role in the progression of many systemic conditions.5 This increased risk also presents at a time when oral hygiene may be challenging, since dexterity can be impaired by poor vision, arthritis and other factors.

Dental professionals are presented with the opportunity to improve the health of patients by understanding their individual needs based on factors such as health status, age, and gender. Since older female patients will represent a growing portion of our patient population, it is important that we are familiar with their specific health concerns. This article will concentrate on three common conditions women may experience as they age: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. It will discuss risk factors and common approaches to treatment and prevention. It will also explore links to oral health and outline treatment plans, including home care products to promote optimal oral health.