Baby Boomers’ Impact on Oral Health Care
Baby boomers, defined as Americans born between 1946 and 1964, represent the second largest segment of the U.S. population (behind millennials).
Baby boomers, defined as Americans born between 1946 and 1964, represent the second largest segment of the U.S. population (behind millennials). With numbers approaching 80 million, this group has had — and will continue to have — a tremendous influence on all aspects of society. Boomers grew up on television and rock ‘n roll. Many wanted to change the world in the 1960s and ‘70s — and, in some cases, this activism has been reawakened in retirement. This generation (to which I belong) can be self-assured and goalcentric, but is also optimistic, hard working and team oriented. In general, boomers embrace technology and believe it is necessary for progress. As this generation continues to mature, it will remain a shaping force — a role it has played for more than 70 years.
DENTISTS NEED TO DO MORE TO EMPHASIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF ORAL HEALTH AND PROMOTE ITS BENEFITS TO SYSTEMIC HEALTH
Compared to previous generations, many boomers retire early. Unfortunately, for some, this new lifestyle may not live up to their expectations. This is because most of the so-called me generation has tended to “spend now and worry later.” As a group, boomers have also done less than a stellar job of saving for retirement. A New York Times article reports that, compared to their parents, boomers have fewer traditional pension plans and many will have to rely on Social Security and savings for retirement. A complicating factor in this equation is that longevity for men and women who reach age 65 has jumped more than 10% since 2000. According to the Society of Actuaries, quoted in the Times’ article by Mark Miller, men and women who reach age 65 can be expected to live to 86.6 and 88.8 years on average, respectively.
Another article in the New York Times suggests that a reduction in personal income and lack of savings have led many retirees to penny pinch. The article cited an individual who moved to the Midwest from California seeking a lower cost of living. She sold her West Coast condominium in 2016 for less than she paid for it in 2006. The article notes that only one in seven boomers will be working at the age of 71. The woman featured was an exception; she will work part-time in a big box store to supplement her income.
What does this bode for dental practice? One takeaway is that boomers are at risk of running out of money in retirement. A key strategy for stretching a thin income, of course, is to frugally budget for health care expenses. Considering that Medicare typically does not cover oral care and that many in the me generation have limited, if any, private dental insurance, some may cut back or forego treatment. As a profession, dentists need to do more to emphasize the importance of oral health and promote its benefits to systemic health. The essential message is that maintaining oral health helps reduce costs for medical care.
Unless significant positive changes in the economy emerge, we are likely to witness further weakening of the middle class, which means boomers will have less disposable income. As clinicians, we need to heed these trends, save our money, and adjust our practice strategies accordingly.
Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS
Editor in Chief
From Decisions in Dentistry. June 2017;3(6):8.