Ask the Experts

Health and Habits

I recently found out that in my whole group of friends here, I’m the only one who regularly schedules dentist appointments. A few of my friends still go to the dentist, but only because their parents schedule appointments for them. The rest don’t go at all!

I don’t get it. My parents had me calling to schedule my own dentist’s appointments and doctor’s appointments since I was very young, and they made it clear that it was important to go. My friends may not have been so lucky, but I’m shocked by the result. Is it common for people to skip things like dental care as adults? What can I do to get my friends back on the right track?

Making regular appointments with doctors, dentists, and relevant specialists is a huge part of living a healthy life. It’s important to be healthy in your personal life, too, of course, and we should all eat healthy and exercise. But we can’t wait until we’re sick to visit the doctor, or until we have a cavity to visit the dentist–that’s a path to pricier care and worse overall health, professionals say. It’s a shame, then, that only about 65 percent of adults regularly go to the dentist. Numbers related to medical care are a bit better, but still not great: we should all be visiting our primary care physician, our dentist, and relevant specialists at least once a year.

But there’s no denying that going–or not going–to these experts is a habit. Your parents instilled the right habit in you, say health professionals at Chatham, New Jersey-based Touchpoint Pediatrics. Healthcare becomes a habit young. Parents are usually good about bringing their young children in for regular medical appointments, but the key is to stick with the good habits as the kids grow older–and get them involved, as your parents did with you and your phone calls for appointments.

Eventually, it’s time to say goodbye to our pediatricians and get primary care physicians who work with adults. That’s a transition that causes some to lose track of their personal health habits–if you show up at school without a primary care physician, or if you move to another state when you graduate, you’ll have to find time to sign up for one. Similarly, many students and young professionals forget to schedule appointments with specialists, say the doctors at Eye Consultants. It’s great if you’re going to a doctor and a dentist, but if you’ve been wearing the same glasses for seven years, you need to go to an opthamologist!

Doing the research to get a primary care doctor (your health insurance company should have a list or searchable database of doctors, and helpful reviews and recommendations are all over reputable internet sites) or specialist (use the same process, or ask your doctor for a referral) is worth the trouble, and so is finding a dentist. Once you’ve made an appointment with a doctor, dentist, or other health-related professional, you can expect friendly reminders by phone and in the mail. No doubt you put little effort into scheduling your regular dental cleanings–perhaps you even make next year’s appointment on the way out the door after this year’s. If your friends can make the jump, they’ll find it well worth it.

As for how to convince them to do so, that’s easy–if they value their health. Skipping dental care has a measurable effect on your teeth, experts say, and it’s not a good one. Skipping regular medical appointments can mean missing early diagnosis of illnesses and other problems, and virtually all medical ailments are easier to treat the earlier they are caught. And if they’re worried about cost, try this one: poor dental care is actually costing millennials on the job market! Your health really is an investment.

“I told my dentist my teeth are going yellow. He told me to wear a brown tie.” — Rodney Dangerfield

John Regan is a former Director of Sales for equity research.