Millennial Teeth: Why oral hygiene on college campuses is hard to chew

When’s the last time you went to the dentist? According to a recent Tangent survey, the answer might be too long ago. It’s an issue that goes beyond just our campus–between lack of insurance and living too far from home, the oral hygiene habits of millennials are quite literally rotting from the inside out.

Alum and current Data Science Graduate student, Michael McCormick (‘17), has never pondered what dental culture among his friends at college looks like.

“It’s not really talked about. You see your roommates’ toothbrushes but that’s about it as far as oral hygiene,” McCormick said. “I feel as if there’s a large disconnect.”

Whether its finances or their distance from home, college students have plenty of reasons not to go to the dentist. In a recent Tangent poll, 100 students were surveyed on their oral hygiene habits. Of those surveyed, over a quarter brushed their teeth, at the most, once per day. Three quarters of those polled stated that they saw a dentist based in their hometown, which was not where they went to school.

“College is all very temporary for me,” McCormick, who does not have a primary dentist based in Sarasota, said. “I’m not even in-state.”

Additionally, college students who may not have their own cars or any other source of transportation might feel less inclined to go off campus to visit a dentist. The financial cost of dental procedures could become another obstacle if that individual does not have dental insurance.

 

(Illustration courtesy of Savannah Hawk)

 

The Cost of Dental Insurance

McCormick does have dental insurance, which he receives for free through his father. McCormick maintains that even if this was not the case, that he would pay for dental insurance out-of-pocket.

“For me, it’s about maintaining a degree of health for the long term,” McCormick said. “I think long-term about a lot of things and, while it may be hard to think about now, [oral hygiene] will pay off in the long run.”  

McCormick plans on finishing school in December. For the time being, he has no plans on finding a dentist locally.

In the Tangent poll, a third of students did not currently have dental insurance and 38 percent of students had not seen a dentist in the past 12 months.

CBS News reported that 64 percent of adults had dental insurance and only 2-4 percent of those with insurance use their maximum yearly allowance.

“Having dental insurance is a really big privilege, which a lot of people don’t have,” thesis student Alexis Pujol said.

Pujol is a dental assistant at I Love My Dentist Sarasota. She works 16 hours a week assisting Dr. Melanie Holden with procedures such as filling cavities, extractions and office work. This is also how Pujol receives free dental care.

Pujol had previously seen a dentist in Lakeland, her hometown in Florida.

“If you have infections in your mouth, it can easily lead to things like gastric issues or heart issues,” Pujol said. “Dental issues, if left untreated, can get really serious. I feel as if there aren’t a lot of programs on campuses that have any sort of dental care.”

The Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC) on campus offers free routine procedures such as allergy injections and flu screenings, and procedures such as immunizations and pap smears for an undisclosed fee. It does not offer any dental services. Students can purchase dental insurance through Humana. It’s a straightforward process that involves a couple clicks on the New College website to a $7.99 monthly premium fee for its Dental Savings Plus program, its most affordable option.

Currently, I Love My Dentist is also offering a reduced rate for New College students. Students will receive a prophy, a new patient exam and x-rays for $122 without insurance, which is normally priced at $200.

“I think that [seeing the dentist] is one of those things that people put off until they get a toothache or notice something is wrong,” Pujol said. “We also use our teeth everyday. The earlier you catch something, the easier it can be to treat it. If you have a cavity, that is something that we can treat before your tooth dies and if you have a $1500 crown or even a root canal.”

As of right now, dental care is being seen as something that is reactive to than proactive. More serious procedures can involve replacement teeth, bone grafts or implants. In lieu of these expensive procedures, some patients opt to simply have their teeth yanked out.

“You’re gonna start losing your teeth if you’re not taking care of them now,” Pujol said. “And in the end, that’s going to end up costing you.”

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