An aging Canadian population suggests the undeniable demographic shift towards more mature patient age groups that has implications for our dental practices. As our patient base ages, we realize seniors’ emphasis on their health needs to be reflected in the everyday practice of our offices. We need to consider corresponding adjustments to our treatment concentration.
As patients’ needs change, our often-perceived obsession with projecting an “image” of being totally esthetically focused must also change. This phenomenon is becoming apparent as one observes the many dental marketing venues. A casual glance at the signage at these offices announces the presence of a dental facility that sends a message with the primary focus on pictures of a “beautiful family” with dazzlingly attractive smiles. Such photos speak more to the younger generation of patients. Maintaining and providing a pleasing general aesthetic is legitimate as well as an important part of what we offer our patients. Where a harmonious aesthetic zone is built into the patient’s face, it benefits patients’ self-esteem and confidenceFor senior patients, however, the youthful model images lose out to their real health concerns that have proved to be an increasing preoccupation for them. With emphasis on aesthetics, we risk appearing to downgrade those of advanced years who need to have our concentration on physiologic based dentistry. Our facilities and our commitment to being “physician of the oral cavity and regional anatomy” should be acknowledged in the signage to the public.
SHIFTING DENTAL OFFICE PRIORITES
If we agree that the priorities of our current and potential patients may have shifted with time and maturity, then it benefits wise practitioners to project that focus to attract the increasingly mature patient base. Having the title “Doctor” does not represent an honorific appellation, but rather it imposes many responsibilities to guard against pathology in the area of the body for which we are responsible.More focus should be placed on the biologic treatments that dentistry provides and is of specific concern for older patients. For example, common needs of an aging population are the following:
sleep apneaTMJsnoringoral cancer examinationsacute/chronic periodonticsdental malocclusion correctionmaxillary facial surgeryimplant placementsxerostomiathe effects of debilitating chronic disease
By refocusing our attention on changes currently occurring in the current environment, an aging patient population provides an opportunity to grow our practice.
Some strategies appeal specifically to the enlarging Baby Boom demographic. Often with this cohort, liberal amounts of time expended by the office and practitioners are viewed as positive. Although addressing the needs of multi-generations has its benefits, some aspects of a practice are especially desirable by Baby Boomers who appreciate personalized attention and customer service from the administrative department and clinical area.
A. Administrative Department
Warm greeting of welcome to the officeBeing offered coffee or other beverages in reception area and assistance in getting the beverageIntroducing new patients by giving them a tour of the physical plant of the office and its facilities, restrooms, coat closet, and reading materialsAllowing sufficient time for designated staff member to “Take” a detailed medical history instead of handing out a clipboard and pen to check off a printed checklist historyDiscussing the list of the many medications that senior patients are required to take and the medical challenges that many face.
Most patients react favorably to the perception that their overall health and well-being are a particular concern of their dental office, but this message resonates well especially with seniors in our practice.
B. Clinical AreaMost senior patients appreciate the effort by the dentist and clinical staff when they carefully explain the long-term health benefits of a particular procedure necessitated by previous wear and tear of the existing dentition. An explanation helps to justify in their minds, the investment of time and resources that the sometimes-complex treatment plans for seniors entail. This generation of patients does not accept the premise that being edentulous and wearing dentures is inevitable and acceptable at a certain age. Having looked after their mouth all through their lives, they are willing to commit some of their resources to maintain their oral cavity with intact dentition.
With the attentiveness of the administrative personnel and knowledge of the culture of an increasingly large proportion of available patients, dedicating time and energy to achieving their goals of maintaining oral health for this demographic offer benefits for them as well as for our practices. As the pendulum swings from our emphasis on cosmetic dentistry, which is of interest to a younger demographic, to the oral health of an aging demographic, we need a plan of professional priorities that aligns with the increasing numbers of senior patients by expanding our emphasis toward addressing their goals and health priorities.