Many U.S. adults ages 18 to 34 may be on track to let poor oral health hurt their overall physical health.

Researchers have published figures hinting at that future in a survey of 1,200 U.S. residents ages 18 to 64 commissioned by a unit of MetLife Inc., New York, and a second survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers age 18 and older commissioned by Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, New York.

Recent academic studies have shown that poorly controlled gum disease seems to correlate with a high rate of premature birth as well as a higher rate of severe health problems among individuals with conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Scientists have suggested the organisms that cause gum disease may contribute to medical problems elsewhere in the body, and some dental insurers have responded by offering extra coverage for teeth cleanings to pregnant plan members and plan members with serious health problems.

About 85% of the MetLife survey participants and 89% of the Guardian survey participants said they believe that there is a connection between oral health and overall health.

But the MetLife study researchers found that participants ages 18 to 34 seem to have particularly poor oral health.

Figures comparing the oral health of consumers in the 18-34 age group with the oral health of consumers in the 18-34 age group in an earlier time period were not immediately available.

But the MetLife researchers found that 24% of participants ages 18 to 34 say their gums bleed when they brush, compared with 14% of consumers ages 35 to 64, and 27% of the youngest participants said their teeth hurt when they drink hot or cold beverages, compared with just 20% of the older participants.

About 42% of the participants under age 35 visit the dentist once a year or less, compared with 31% of the older participants, MetLife researchers report.

Both Guardian and MetLife researchers have found that access to dental insurance plays a big role in determining how regularly consumers go to the dentist.

Fewer than a quarter of the infrequent users of dental care told researchers that they avoid going because of fear of pain.

About 42% of the Guardian survey participants who have dental insurance gave “inadequate dental coverage” as one of the main reasons why they limit their visits to the dentist, and 73% of the participants without dental coverage gave inadequate dental coverage as one of the main reasons, Guardian researchers report.

At MetLife, 64% of the survey participants without dental coverage cited cost as one of the top reasons keeping them from seeing the dentist more often.

Roughly 54% of survey participants with dental coverage visit the dentist 2 or more times a year, but only 24% of the participants without dental coverage said they see the dentist that often, MetLife researchers report.