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Boomer debt and visits to the dentist

Partners In Prevention 1Each day in North America, about 11,000 Baby Boomers retire. Most have no dental plan, most are taking more than 3 medications daily for chronic diseases and thereby are experiencing dry mouth, and most have all of their teeth with lots of gum recession.

This is a perfect storm for 2 things: dental decay at the gum line, and, staying away from the dental office. Folks on fixed incomes and without subsidies for dental services, commonly fear the words “root canal”, “extraction”, “implant” and “crown”.

But there is another factor which minimizes dental visits by the aging Boomers. Debt load. Perhaps you have been following the series of articles on the Boomer Generation in theGlobe and Mail; have a look at this article on Boomer debt.

It is sobering. Here are some excerpts:

According to data from Statistics Canada’s 2012 Survey of Financial Security, 70 per cent of people aged 55 and 64 are still carrying debt, an increase from 61 per cent in 1999. Their average debt level climbed to $107,900 from $60,600 in 1999, even after adjustment to constant 2012 dollars. One-third still have mortgages, 38 per cent are carrying credit card debt and 29 per cent have vehicle loans.

Debt levels for people over 65 have climbed even more quickly, with 43 per cent indebted in 2012 compared to just 27 per cent in 1999, while average debt for seniors almost doubled to $61,700 from $31,800. A recent Ontario study by bankruptcy trustee firm Hoyes Michalos & Associates showed people over 60 are the fastest growing age category for insolvencies.

It is little wonder why the older patient is hard to organize on a regular recall schedule. While they surely need it, they can’t afford it.

So what do we do as dental practices to adjust to this situation?

From my perch, dentistry has been positioning itself to sell an engine change, rather than an oil change. This results from a common perception that prevention is a hard sell, and procedures such as implants are sufficiently lucrative to compensate for the empty waiting room.

Perhaps. But then I watch the line ups at Mr. Lube and think what a sensible response this concept of prevention is to the alarming trends in Boomer debt.

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