We Can Do Better: A Millennial Dentist’s Tips for Your Teeth

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By: Alex Edelson

Millennials get a bad rap. Some people label us as self-entitled, discontented, and my personal favorite, lazy. But we have not received the title of unhealthy, and we want to keep it that way.

Thanks to a mix of food industry changes, education, social media awareness and technology, millennials have grown up to become a health-conscious generation. Which is why you might be surprised to learn that 3 in 10 of us millennials only brush our teeth once a day, according to a study of 2,000 adults by Hello Products, a start-up company selling natural oral care.

For some reason, many members of Generation Y do not associate oral health as a part of overall health. And, the impact is real.

To get a handle on why this is happening and help millennials learn how to navigate complicated oral health barriers, I talked to 28-year-old Dustin Plunkett, DDS. Dr. Plunkett has been practicing for two years and currently works as a General Practitioner at Dental Professional Associates in Washington, D.C

Dustin Plunkett, DDS, shows his passion for dentistry, holding one of his favorite models of the skull and mouth. Dr. Plunkett is an advocate for educating millennials about their oral health.

YMyHealth: Are you surprised that a study would find that 3 out of ten millennials regularly brush their teeth only once a day?

Dr. Plunkett: No, not at all. I see it all the time. A lot of millennials brush their teeth once a day and floss once a week or once a month. They perceive oral care as a chore, not a routine. Younger generations expect instant satisfaction and lack delayed gratification due to social media and smartphones. If you take just six minutes out of your entire day, you could prevent disease, pain, and a huge dental bill.

YMyHealth: The Hello Products’ study also found that 22% of millennials avoid going to the dentist because of the taste of the products used for cleanings and treatments. Do your millennial patients express similar concerns over coming to the dentist? What would you recommend to get over these fears?

Dr. Plunkett: I’ve found that most millennials have preconceived notions about dental treatment from stories that have been passed down from their parents or grandparents about what they have experienced. Back in the day, dentistry and medicine were brutal. It was very painful to go to the dentist. Topical anesthetic was not as strong, and dentists did not have tiny needles, so it was very painful to get treatment. These experiences have created a dental phobia, which is very strong in society. Patients often tell me from the get-go that they are afraid of me even when they haven’t had a bad experience in the dental chair themselves.

 YMyHealth: The 2015 American Dental Association survey, Oral Health and Well-Being in the United States, asked millennials if they planned to visit the dentist within the next year. Of the millennials surveyed, 80% said yes and only 30% said that they actually visited the dentist. For 61% of millennials, cost was the top reason for not visiting the dentist. This seems like a rational reason but many end up paying for oral health eventually, right?

Dr. Plunkett: For a general cleaning, money is not an excuse. If you have any dental insurance at all, it fully covers dental cleanings twice a year. Oral hygiene is all about preventive medicine. Initial fears keep millennials from coming into the office. Then, what can happen is that instead of their first appointments being easy, they have multiple problems that require care because of years of compounded issues going untreated. No matter what, at some point in time you will have to be in the chair. It is better for both your health and your wallet to start regular visits sooner, rather than later.

YMyHealth: What are some tips for millennials to improve their dental hygiene?

Dr. Plunkett: Have you ever heard of the rule of three? For dental hygiene, I use the rule of two. Brush and floss your teeth twice a day, for two minutes, two teeth at a time. This makes you remember to slow down and focus on the task at hand. Also, if you only brush your teeth once, make sure to do it before you go to bed rather than in the morning. When you don’t brush before you go to sleep, bacteria have 6-8 hours to eat sugars around your teeth and burn a whole in your teeth. Education is key for millennials. Also, buy good products, like a soft bristle toothbrush. It’s worth it.

YMyHealth: What would you tell millennials that believe they should only go to the dentist intermittently, only if they experience major pain or other oral health problems?

Dr. Plunkett: Think about it this way; each tooth in your mouth is a $5,000 investment. I mean this in the sense of thinking about it long term. If you think about your health holistically and different bacterial diseases caused from neglect, good oral health habits are a type of preventative medicine. If you have an effective routine and you see a dentist regularly, you will avoid a lot of pain in your mouth and in your pocket.

Stay tuned for our next post on oral health, where we will tackle the subject of dental insurance for our fellow millennials.

More about millennial dentist, Dr. Plunkett:

Dustin Plunkett attended the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine and was presented his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree with cum laude honors. He completed his residency program at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Hampton, VA. His hospital training included surgery, anesthesia, geriatric, internal medicine and emergency clinics. Dr. Plunkett has also enjoyed traveling to provide care for the under-privileged with Remote Area Medical and the Mission of Mercy.

*This article was originally published on August 1, 2018. It has been reformatted to a new layout for YMyHealth’s new website.

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