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Out of college, Out of the House, and Not Going to the Dentist: Millennials Face Increased Dental Health Problems

A recent news story by Channel 3's David Douglas emphasized the fact that younger adults (age 20-34) are more likely to avoid the dentist for long periods of time than older adults. Full story and video here.

Here's the full story from First Choice Dental.

MADISON, Wis. (July 5, 2011) - When you think of tooth decay and cavities, you probably think of little children chomping on sticky candy and then heading off to the dentist for the first time. But the reality is that dentists see a spike in cavities and tooth decay among young adults age 20-34, who, for various reasons do not go to the dentist on a regular basis.

For these Millennials, also called "Gen Y", going to the dentist is not a high priority. They are in college or getting their first jobs, looking for apartments, finding health clubs, and not overly worried about finding a dentist. Add to that, a gap in insurance coverage due no longer being under their parents plan or not having a job which provides it, and Millennials are even less likely to seek dental care. A study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) shows only a little more than 50 percent of adults age 20-34 have been to the dentist within the past year, as compared to more than 62 percent of adults ages 35-64. Dr. Joe Sharkus, a dentist at First Choice Dental Group says, "We have seen patients in that Millennial age group who need major dental work because they have failed to see a dentist for several years."

What's shocking, notes the NHANES survey, is that among adults age 20-64, Millennials are the segment with the highest percentage of untreated decay in permanent teeth. The Millennials, also known as Generation Y, comprise the largest segment of the population since the Baby Boomers, nearly 80 million. A 2007 Robert Half International study of Generation Y found this generation likes to work in teams, are avid digital communicators and they are protective of their life/work balance. They also don't visit their dentist. Recent research indicates that adults age 20-34 are more likely to have avoided the dentist for 2-3 years. But sadly, the "stay away, get decay" adage has held true. Among adults age 20-64, Millennials are the segment with the highest percentage of untreated decay in permanent teeth.

"People think 'no pain, no problem', or have a false sense of security because cosmetically their teeth look good," says Dr. Sharkus. "The truth is, many dental health issues have hidden dangers that advance without pain until it's very serious and requires more invasive and often more expensive treatment."

He adds, "Lack of mouth pain doesn't necessarily mean there isn't a problem. In fact, when teeth or gums do begin to cause pain or discomfort, it could be a sign of a bigger issue." More than 85 percent of people in that Millennial age group have dental decay, missing or filled permanent teeth. These dental issues are all the more reason to see your dentist.

"Like your overall health, dental health is all about prevention," says Sharkus. "Regular dental hygiene visits and exams every six months, as well as the at-home brushing and flossing, can alleviate many oral issues that can arise without proper care. It should be easy and painless to keep your smile - your first impression - healthy."

Sip all day. Get decay.

Stay away from the dentist for too long, and the risk of dental decay increases. But another culprit is what we drink. The Millennial age group is more likely than older adults to drink soft drinks and citrus or sports energy drinks, which contribute to tooth decay.

Millennials more likely to self diagnose dental issues

For many young Americans, dental health is something they don't think they need to worry about. Many are living on their own for the first time, and a visit to the dentist is not at the top of the to-do list. Nearly 75 percent of this age-group has used the Internet to research health-related issues. As a result, this age group is also more likely to diagnose any dental issues themselves. More than 1-in-4 adults age 20-34 say their teeth and mouth condition is "excellent or very good." Nearly 40 percent rate their own mouth and teeth condition as "good". While these young adults may think they have excellent or good oral health, na"ive optimism or poor self-diagnosis could cost them in the long run.

"It's risky to let any health care issue slide," says Sharkus, "particularly when it's easy and painless to set up regular appointments. Regular check-ups and cleanings could prevent costly root canals and other problems later on." Maybe as young adults embark on their first careers or adventures, not only should they be reminded to "Call your Mother," but "Call your dentist, too!"