Although many people are focused on the growing cosmetic and restorative dentistry needs of aging Americans, it may actually be the younger generation that’s in greater need. That’s according to recent research by the American Dental Association, which shows that young adults–those commonly referred to as “Millennials”–are actually suffering the most as a result of their poor oral health.
Quality of Life Is Suffering
One of the most stark results from the recent ADA research is just how much young adults are suffering because of their poor oral health. According to the study, 38% of Millennials say that life in general is less satisfying due to the condition of their mouth and teeth. That’s the highest of any age group, and it’s striking in contrast to the oldest Americans. Only 17% of those 65 and older said that their teeth affected their quality of life.
It’s not surprising that so many younger Americans report that their quality of life is suffering, when you look at the types of problems they report:
- 35% report that they experience embarrassment related to their mouth and teeth
- 35% report problems chewing
- 30% experience anxiety
- 33% say they avoid smiling
When you add all this up, you can see that many Millennials are probably experiencing daily problems related to their poor oral health.
Smile for Your Supper
Another key insight is the financial impact caused by poor oral health. Millennials are most likely to report that the quality of their teeth impacts their job search, with 28% saying the appearance of their mouth and teeth hinders their job search.
And they may be right. We’ve talked before about how employers factor a person’s smile into their hiring decisions, but there may be even more to it. Millennials are more likely than other age groups to report missing work days because of oral health (15%).
This sets up a kind of Catch-22 situation for Millennials. They can’t get a job because of their smiles, but they can’t get their smiles fixed because they don’t have a job: 61% report that cost is the primary barrier keeping them from getting dental care. And although 80% say they’re planning to visit a dentist in the next year, only 30% said they’ve visited a dentist in the past year.
Part of the problem may be shifting standards with Millennials. Although many generations of Americans have been subjected to media images about what the perfect smile should be, Millennials have a different relationship to their media than previous generations.
Selfie culture has given Millennials reason to examine their smile on a daily basis, and following of celebrity Instagram and Twitter feeds leads to inevitable comparisons.
In addition, the spread of cosmetic dentistry has made the perfect smile more accessible. As a result, they probably have higher standards about the appearance of their smile than older Americans.
A Growing Demand for Cosmetic Dentistry
The effect of these two situations–poor dental health and higher demand for cosmetic perfection–will be to increase demand for cosmetic dentistry even further in the near future. Millennials will find their footing in the job market, whether that’s with traditional jobs, the sharing economy, or some other job model we have not yet imagined. And when they do, they will demand more cosmetic dentistry to help them achieve their high ideals of a beautiful smile.
And that, as much as our aging population of Boomers, will come to control the future of cosmetic dentistry.