Millennials’ complex relationship with oral health services

The American Dental Association estimates that less than 1 in 3 Millennials (those in their 20s and 30s) visit the dentist each year — the lowest visit rate among any generation except for those over age 75.

The reasons are both obvious (student debt, the gig economy with no benefits) and somewhat confusing (for example, Millennials prioritize health). Indeed, the reasons are complex too and may be due to changing tastes and preferences. This is the most worrisome part of this development within the biggest generation of them all.

Changing consumer preferences by Millennials have impacted other industry and product categories. Take cereal as an example — sales are down 17% in the past decade largely because Millennials reconsidered cereals as a snack, not a staple. Take cheese and beer — both have shifted away from mass market items to craft, specialty, natural-based products because of Millennials. Take Harley’s decline to e-scooters’s rise — again the Millennial taste and preference is a big factor.

Dental services, their presentation, justification and delivery have remained largely the same between generations. What was good for the Boomers should be good for the Millennials.

But is it? Should we risk being cheese, or beer, or cereal. Or are we already in the same difficulties as these other products? Should we not adapt to a new consumer with different wants and tastes as well as thinner wallets. What might a Millennial oral health service look like? (Note the repositioning of “dental” to “oral health”.)

Here are some possible themes:

  • pitch overall health — for example, link poor oral health to inflammation
  • pitch the inter-relatedness of oral health and chronic disease — many Millennials are influential on what their parents do.
  • pitch no pain, quick and easy
  • pitch the cause of poor oral health — a shift in the bacteria in the mouth. Something new, something interesting, something more compelling for a too-distracted generation.


Millennials are in debt. They earn less, hold fewer assets, and have less wealth than members of previous generations did when they were their age, according to the Fed. Many are burdened by student debt, as median incomes have failed to keep pace with the skyrocketing costs of four-year college programs.

Millennials prioritize health and wellness. No generation has been more health-conscious than millennials, with 8 in 10 believing it is important to eat healthy and indulge only occasionally. Millennials are the generation most concerned with natural and ethical food products, and they account for more than half of organic food consumption.