Are Gen Z Teeth Better Than Their Predecessors' Teeth?
By Dr. Nicole Margavitch, MINT Dental Director
Quality dental care has become the standard for our current generation, resulting in healthier, longer lasting teeth. However, less than 100 years ago, people were expected to lose all of their teeth at some point in their lifetime, leading to an influx in questionable dental practices and dentures made out of low-grade materials. As Gen Z begins and continues to enter the workforce, with many acquiring dental insurance, we were curious: are GEN Z teeth better than their predecessors’ teeth?
A recent study found evidence that roughly 20% of the 25 and under crowd spends as little time as they can cleaning their teeth, with some even “forgetting” to brush at all. They claim that time restraints and busy lifestyles prevent them from practicing healthy oral care. However, the majority of Gen Z seems to be concerned with the impression their smiles leave on others aesthetically. This is nothing new, as keeping up appearances has motivated people to maintain their teeth for centuries.
Teeth are a necessity of life as they allow us to eat and have historically been seen as a decorative portrayal of a given person’s appearance and sexual appeal. With bared teeth, we become dangerous and untouchable but with a soft, welcoming smile we somehow become innately more human. Teeth tell the stories of lives from 500 million years ago, holding the record for oldest vertebrate fossil. The value of a healthy smile is immeasurable and, artifactually, our 32 teeth leave a lasting impression.
While generations across the board relate to wanting appealing smiles, the make-up of prior generations’ teeth changes dramatically as we go back further in time. Taking it back to ancient Egyptian times, when people lost their teeth, dentures were made out of animal teeth and wire. In the 1700s, George Washington didn’t have wooden teeth (despite most claims). He just had really poor oral care practices. According to the Mount Vernon Museum, his collection of dentures grew over the years, with many consisting of ivory, gold, and lead. Washington’s dentures appeared wooden because of his diet, which likely consisted of staining foods and drinks. Years after Washington’s lifetime, it became even more common for people to lose their teeth and a sort of desperation set in to save them. People began grave-robbing to uncover a deceased person’s lasting set of teeth and would then adopt them as their own. (Clearly, the dental industry was highly underregulated at this time!)
Many dentists suggest that maintaining the quality of one’s teeth has changed drastically within the last couple of centuries (about two generations). Since Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first city to implement community water fluoridation in 1945, cavities have become less of a childhood staple with one study suggesting that 60% of children had fewer cavities after the water fluoridation movement. A consultant for the American Dental Association explains that the majority of children today will turn 10 without ever having a cavity due to fluoride in water. While generations prior to Gen Z assumed they’d lose all of their teeth at some point in their lives, with the advanced dental technology and procedures found in the 21st century, today’s younger generations of 18 to 24-year-olds are more likely to keep all of their natural teeth an entire lifetime.
The unfortunate reality, however, lies in the fact that most Gen Z do not brush their teeth. While Gen Z values aesthetics like white teeth, they don’t seem to value overall dental health quite as much. Roughly 80% of individuals who are 36 and older view cleaning their teeth as a critical aspect of their daily routine. This number greatly differs from the younger generation that views cleaning their teeth “when they can” as an aesthetic need as opposed to a hygiene standard. Approximately 25% of individuals
under the age of 26 said they are happy with their dental hygiene, while the remaining percentage believe it could be improved but don’t necessarily have the motivation to do so.
It is difficult to say whether Gen Z or any generation before them has better teeth. While older generations are more inclined to take a proactive approach to their dental hygiene, Gen Z is more likely to react to an issue when it comes about. However, if we are basing the quality of one’s teeth on who is predicted to be able to keep their natural teeth the longest, Gen Z might just be the winner. (Unless you throw in the fact that veneers are on the rise — but that’s a conversation for another day.)
But no matter which generation you identify with, practicing proper dental hygiene is critical to maintaining a healthy smile and oral well-being regardless of your age. If it’s been over 6 months since your last dentist visit, you are overdue for a cleaning. MINT dentistry offers oral exams, digital x-rays, general cleanings, and much more at our office locations in Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta. Schedule your appointment today and receive free teeth whitening with our PPO dental insurance during your next office visit.