We’ve written before about how men are increasingly forgoing medical checkups, and recent research indicates that millennials are following their lead by avoiding the dentist for years on end. They’re facing unfortunate repercussions, too: A study by the American Dental Association (ADA) found that more than 30 percent of young adults have untreated tooth decay, which is the highest of any age group.
But before we bust out the special millennial-brand pitchforks and torches, we should add that this isn’t to do with millennials being lazy—this is the result of millennials having less access to dental insurance.
“This can be linked to lack of insurance coverage, which can lead to costly dental appointments for a population that’s already feeling the financial burdens of being in school, living paycheck-to-paycheck and paying off student loan debt,” explains dentist Sheri Doniger. Statistics back up her claim: More than 69 percent of health plans currently fail to include dental insurance, according to the ADA. Worse yet, millennials have been forced to freelance more than any other generation, making them ineligible for employer-sponsored health insurance.
This lack of insurance has many millennials feeling down in the mouth: About one in five millennials feel they have to cut back on socializing as a result of dental problems, according to the ADA survey, and 28 percent say the appearance of their teeth and mouth undermines their ability to interview for a job.
But since dental insurance seemingly won’t be any more available anytime soon, what can millennials do to keep their teeth healthy? “Proper brushing, flossing and rinsing with mouthwash are all ways to help maintain good oral health,” Doniger says. “And when brushing isn’t possible, chewing sugar-free gum helps stimulate saliva flow, which helps to neutralize plaque acid, maintain tooth mineralization, clear food debris and maintain a proper pH.”
Who needs dental insurance when you have sugar-free gum? Besides, y’know…everyone.