Golden opportunities: Profitable geriatric dentistry with a heart

The shimmer of a senior’s smile is often dimmed by the challenges of dental care accessibility. Dental care is a vital, yet often overlooked aspect of geriatric health. The decrease in dental insurance coverage when they retire leaves many seniors vulnerable and facing prohibitive costs. This is a clarion call for dental practices to evolve and embrace innovative strategies that cater to the unique needs of the elder population. This is a blend of compassion and practicality, which ensures that seniors’ golden years are met with equally golden care.

Navigating the dental care landscape as a senior can be tricky, but it’s crucial. According to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, dental coverage plummets from 62% at age 65 to 26% by age 75. With the loss of employer or union dental insurance in retirement, and Medicare not covering dental, seniors face high out-of-pocket costs, averaging $1,126 yearly. The consequences of neglected dental care extend beyond discomfort to serious health issues.

This alarming trend spotlights the urgent need for dental practices to adapt. We must develop strategies that are financially viable for our businesses while addressing the affordability crisis of aging patients. These figures not only inform our approach but also emphasize the critical role dental professionals play in supporting the oral health of seniors.

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How dental professionals can contribute

Elders are not just patients; they’re examples of resilience with smiles that have stood the test of time. Embrace their journey. When their living situation changes, we can be the constant that doesn’t. Set up systems to track their next steps, whether it’s a move to assisted living or a shift in insurance post-retirement.

Profitability isn’t a dirty word; it’s necessary for sustained care. Once a month, consider blocking out a morning for those golden agers. This focused approach ensures they receive the attention they deserve without disrupting your flow. For the insurance tango, play the guide—help them find providers who accept their new plans. They’ve invested in your services; now invest in their peace of mind.

Here’s a golden nugget—teledentistry. It’s not just a trend; it’s a lifeline for those who can’t make it to your chair. Plus, it’s cost-effective. You can check in on your patients virtually and keep their pearly whites under surveillance.

Remember, it’s about adding life to years, not just years to life. And as for those less profitable insurance plans? Don’t shy away. Innovate your practice to serve seniors profitably, because when their smiles shine, your practice does too.

The heart of the issue is clear: a significant number of seniors avoid the dentist, primarily due to diminishing dental coverage and high costs during retirement. This gap in care not only affects their oral health but can lead to broader health complications. The solution lies in how dental offices adapt. We need to create strategies that cater to the unique financial and health needs of the aging population, ensuring affordability while maintaining the viability of our practices. This involves innovative scheduling, teledentistry, and assisting in insurance navigation. By adapting our practices, we can bridge this gap and provide essential care to seniors and ensure a healthy business model.

Elevate your game. The elders deserve it, and your practice needs it. Let’s keep their smiles sparkling together.

Practical tips for dealing with elders

  1. Flexible scheduling: Allocate half a day each month specifically for seniors, catering to those who need more time or have lower-paying dental insurance. This approach can optimize patient care without affecting overall practice efficiency.
  2. Mobile dentistry: Extend services into the community through a mobile arm, especially using teledentistry. This can be invaluable for patients in long-term care, assisted living facilities, or those who are homebound.

Addressing challenges and solutions with elders

  1. Resource allocation: It can be challenging to balance the needs of senior patients with efficient practice operation. Solutions include careful scheduling and prioritizing teledentistry for less mobile patients.
  2. Insurance navigation: Understanding the complexities of different insurance plans can be daunting. The solution is regular training for staff on senior-specific plans and offering consultative services to patients.

For more detailed strategies and insights, explore resources such as Delta Dental and other specialized consulting services that provide valuable tips for dental care for seniors.


Editor’s note: This article appeared in the March 2024 print edition of RDH magazine. Dental hygienists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

Sonya Dunbar, MPH, RDH, known as the Geriatric Toothfairy, is a dental hygienist, speaker, author, and entrepreneur. With more than three decades in dental care, Sonya co-owns Mobile Dental Xpress, bringing vital services to long-term care facilities. As a Navy Veteran pursuing a PhD, she’s a fierce advocate for geriatric oral health. Sonya has authored books, won accolades, and cofounded the National Mobile & Teledentistry Conference and the Denobi Awards. Learn more and connect with her at sonyadunbar.com/.

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