Tooth loss and dental problems are typically thought of as issues associated with older people, but a new report shows that millennials have more problems with their mouths than any other age group.
Dental Concerns in This Demographic
A study by the American Dental Association reports that over 30 percent of millennials have untreated tooth decay.
The ADA study also found that 35 percent of people aged 18 to 34 have difficulty and pain when biting and chewing. And, 38 percent of survey participants reported a “less satisfying” life because of the pain and discomfort caused by their oral health issues.
Over 20 percent of the study’s participants reported avoiding social situations and relationships and even missing job interviews because they felt embarrassed about their teeth.
Why Millennials Experience High Rates of Dental Problems
The ADA report also found that only 30 percent of millennials visit their dentist each year.
Reasons cited for missing dental checkups included low wages of entry-level jobs that prevented participants from paying for dental treatments.
Other respondents reported high debt loads from student loans or the cost of starting a family as an impediment to accessing dental care. Most the study’s participants lacked dental insurance coverage because it was either not offered by their employer or coverage was too costly.
Some study participants also reported their lack of dental insurance was because they were unsure of how to get coverage or how coverage worked.
Affordability and lack of insurance coverage are not the only reasons why millennials are missing dental checkups.
Some participants in the survey mentioned not making time for the dentist because they wanted access to dental care on demand, instead of waiting for a future appointment. Some participants also said that traveling to the dentist was inconvenient if the practice was too far away.
Skipping Dental Checkups Has Serious Consequences
“Missing a dental checkup is a big deal,” said Dr. Stefania Caracioni, D.D.S., L.V.I.F.
Caracioni is a Topeka, Kansas, dentist who compares an annual checkup at the dentist to routine vehicle maintenance.
“If you don’t take your car in for regular oil changes, eventually the engine is going to have problems. Skipping regular dental checkups means eventually you’re going to develop tooth decay and gum disease,” Caracioni said.
A dental checkup consists of a cleaning to remove plaque buildup from the teeth. Plaque is a sticky biofilm of bacteria that forms on the teeth and gums. If plaque is not removed through regular brushing and dental cleanings, tooth decay begins to develop.
“Most people do not realize that a cavity develops in as little as six months,” Caracioni said.
“A cavity is easy to treat with a filling at a regular appointment but may need a root canal if neglected for a year.”
The gums are also affected by skipping regular checkups, and patients may find themselves dealing with advanced periodontal disease by going too long between appointments.
“Gingivitis is completely treatable, and even reversible in some people if caught early,” Caracioni said.
If left untreated, gingivitis can develop into periodontitis, a serious gum infection that damages both gum tissue and bone. Periodontitis may lead to endocarditis, a dangerous and potentially fatal infection of the lining of the heart muscle.
Missing Checkups May Cost Millennials More Than Their Oral Health
In addition to cleaning and checking up on the teeth and gums, regular dental checkups are an opportunity for a dentist to look at the health of the structures in the mouth or for signs of illness.
“Many signs of diseases are first recognized by dentists,” Caraconi said.
Diseases that present signs in the mouth include oral cancer, diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure and rheumatoid arthritis.
The ADA recommends that people see their dentist at least once every six months.
Forbes. Why Some Millennials Aren’t Smiling: Bad Teeth Hinder 28% in Job Search. Forbes. 28 March 2017.