The older adult population (defined as those age 65 years and older) is the fastest growing age segment in the US. Older patients present unique challenges and opportunities to dentistry. Most oral health professionals have already and will continue to have increased contact with older adults in their practices.
The U.S. Bureau of Census reported 4.1% of the US population was age 65 years or older at the turn of the 20th century, accounting for roughly about 3.2 million of the 76 million persons in the U.S. In 2010, there were more than 40 million older Americans, representing nearly 13% of the population. The Census Bureau projects that over 20% of American adults will be age 65 or over by the year 2040.
The increase in the age 65+ population has occurred most steeply among the "oldest old" or persons ages 85 and older. For instance, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present, the size of the 65-74 age group increased by 800%, but the number of Americans age 85 years and above has increased by 2500% over the same period. The growing number of older adults reflects increasing life expectancy in recent generations, or the number of years one can expect to live. Rising life expectancies reflect two main factors. First, infant and child mortality rates have dropped precipitously, thus more people are surviving until adulthood. Second, adults are surviving until old age, and often late old age, due to advances in public health, medical technology, and access to medical care. Currently there are over 6 million Americans aged 85 years and older; the number of Americans aged 100 or older is projected to reach 1/2 million by 2040.