Dental Expectations Among Today’s Older Adults

Dental health status of older Americans changed dramatically during the second half of the 20th century. The proportion of the older population that is edentulous (i.e., lacking their natural teeth) declined from about two-thirds in 1957 to less than one-fifth today. Caring for the dental needs of older patients no longer automatically means making complete dentures.

An increase in the number of retained teeth has significant implications for preventive and primary oral health service needs. Nearly twice as many teeth are projected to be at risk for dental disease in 2030 as were in 1972. This shift is due to both a decrease in the number of teeth lost to disease as well as an increase in the size of the older population. The largest increase in retained teeth is among individuals over the age of 45. Future cohorts of older adults will increasingly expect to maintain their teeth and be more likely to seek dental services throughout their lives.

Older adults today are more likely to have graduated high school and college than previous generations. Greater educational attainment leads to increased health knowledge, greater use of preventive services, and healthier lifestyles.

Diagram showing educational attainment of the population age 65 and over, selected years, 1965-2015.
Educational attainment of the population age 65 and over, selected years, 1965-2015.