Can Oral Health Improve Your Social Life?

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By: Alex Edelson

Are you a millennial who would rather face your biggest fear instead of making a dentist appointment? That shouldn’t be the case. Avoiding the dentist cannot only lead to infections and pain in your mouth, but it can actually affect your life far beyond your teeth.

Think about it. When you first meet someone face-to-face, whether for something as mundane as a job interview or something far more fun like a date, what is one of the first things you notice about them? Their expression. More specifically, their smile and their teeth, good or bad.

Current Environment of Millennial Oral Health

A 2015 American Dental Association (ADA) Survey looking at oral health and well-being in the United States seems to agree, and the impact of teeth on our social lives as millennials can be huge.

The ADA found that due to the condition of young adults’ mouth and teeth, 35% of them feel embarrassed, 33% avoid smiling, and worse yet, 22% reduce participation in social activities.

In a series of posts, we’ll hear from millennials just like you on how to navigate oral health issues. Through an understanding of effective cleaning habits, dental insurance tips, and a glance into the realities of millennial dental health, the chair won’t seem so daunting

To start us off, YMyHealth spoke with Fleming Campbell, a fellow millennial who wanted to share his story about the impact of oral health issues in his life. Fleming is a 34-year-old political consultant living in Washington, D.C. who recently had the unfortunate experience of having a root canal.

Fleming
Fleming Campbell enjoying one of his favorite pastimes, weight lifting.

A root canal is a procedure to save an infected tooth that involves removing  the damaged area of a tooth, cleaning it, and then filling and sealing it. The damaged area, called the pulp, can become infected because of an injury or a severe cavity. The term “root canal” comes from the cleaning of the canals inside the tooth’s root.

Before his root canal, Fleming thought he had good oral health habits. And compared to a lot of millennials (and people of other age groups), he does. He brushes twice a day and flosses a few times a week. He visits a dentist yearly and has had few cavities or oral health issues in his life. Fleming follows the standards set forth by the ADA which advise all patients to brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss daily, limit sugary snacks and beverages, and see a dentist regularly for prevention and treatment of oral disease.

“Dental health like anything is something that is easy to ignore, but if neglected, it will add up to a much bigger problem,” Fleming says. “Maintenance pays off in the long run.”

And, Fleming can say that is true after his firsthand experience with a major dental procedure.

“A weightlifting barbell hit me in the face, shattering two teeth. One tooth was fine with a cap, but the other cracked in half and needed to be removed,” Fleming says.

His dentist performed a root canal on it only then to realize he then needed to pull the tooth. So, on top of the time off from work and the cost for the root canal, Fleming had to repeat that process for tooth removal. He says, it has been an undeniably frustrating experience.

A root canal can cost anywhere from $600-$1,000. Insurance can bring those costs down by almost half in some cases but many people still paid out of pocket for more serious procedures like a root canal.

“The whole process has been painful, time consuming, and incredibly expensive, and I’m only halfway through at this point,” Fleming says. “To add to the stress, despite regular conversations with the dentist, my bills are still huge and arbitrary. I am glad I am getting the healthcare I need, but this doesn’t make me love going to the dentist.”

Social Implications of Dental Health

Even though once you have tooth pain that won’t go away you quickly get yourself to the dentist, the rest of the time many millennials don’t often think about getting their teeth checked. According to the ADA survey, pain is the number one oral health problem for young adults. Our late arrival to the dental chair for checkups could be why.

Despite Fleming’s great oral health habits compared to many of his fellow millennials, his root canal experience shows, if you only go to the dentist after feeling pain, you will have much bigger problems than the minor discomfort of a regular dental checkup.

“It can be difficult to see dental health alongside overall health. In one checkup with a general physician, we get all the rest of our body squared away, but a separate checkup needs to be made with a different doctor to make sure our teeth are healthy,” Fleming says.

Copy of 33% of young adults

For some reason, it can be difficult for us to think about dental health in the same way that we think about overall health. Clearly, Fleming understands the connection of dental health to overall health and how important that is.

“As someone who is walking around with a front tooth missing, I know that people notice good teeth. Having a full set of healthy teeth is not something to take for granted,” Fleming says.

Being physically and mentally healthy impacts the way we interact with others. It’s important to realize that dental health can also influence your health from a social perspective because good teeth will lead to less insecurities and anxiety in social situations.

It’s sometimes a struggle to put the proper time and energy into oral health. Do yourself a favor and start now. Save yourself from the pain you’ll feel in your wallet and your mouth in the future.

In our next post, we will talk with a millennial dentist that wants to change the way you think about oral health.

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