As with the rest of the developed world, Australia is facing a future in which our population will be much older than in the past. The population of people age 65 and over will likely increase by about 4 million persons by 2060. This population will also include an increasing proportion of very old persons. In 2012, there is only about one person over the age of 100 for every 100 babies born. By 2060, there will be about 25 persons over the age of 100 for each 100 babies born. By 2100, there will be more people over the age of 100 than babies born.
As we face this aging population, there is good news and bad news about our oral health.
Good News: Less Edentulism
There are many things to be happy about when it comes to oral health in Australia. The biggest story is the dramatic decline in edentulous rates (the number of people who have lost all their teeth). In the late 20th century, Australia had one of the highest edentulous rates in the developed world. This was due to a tendency to extract teeth because of fears that they could serve as a source of infection for the body. As we have stopped routine extractions, the edentulous rate of people age 65 and older has fallen and now is lower than the US. With fewer people dependent on full dentures, they are more likely to enjoy good nutrition and self-confidence.
Bad News: Damaged Teeth, Gum Disease
On the other hand, retaining more teeth means there will be more need for ongoing dental care. Although the number of lost teeth has gone down, the total number of decayed, missing, and filled teeth (DMFT) remains high for aging Australians, an average of about 23.7 per person, with most of them being missing teeth.
Gum disease is also a major problem for people as they age. With less saliva, more missing teeth, and diminished immune systems, people over the age of 65 are more likely to develop gum disease, which contributes to tooth loss and can increase other risks. This risk is also increased by the simultaneous rise in diabetes and other obesity-related illness.
Good News: More Treatments Available
But perhaps the best news is that we continue to develop new treatments to overcome the oral health problems faced by older Australians. Dental implants are a new way to restore lost teeth, and they continue to get more effective all the time. Even dentures continue to improve with developments like the Denture Fountain of Youth™.
Although there are many challenges, it’s likely that not only will Australians be living longer in the future, their teeth will be stronger, too.