I've been in dental hygiene school for a little more than a year and have been seeing patients for a while doing my clinics, and I have come to the conclusion people don't value oral health like they would visiting a physician and having a check up or maintaining their physical health, how do you feel personally about oral health? Do you only go in when something hurts? Did your parents value good oral hygiene?
I'm a dental assistant , and you're right ..I see many patients that only come in when something hurts. I think the two main contributers to that are, cost and fear . Usually the patient has had a traumatic dental experience in the past that prevented them from coming . But in the case of clinics its usually a cost issue or just general lack of care. I think if proper dental habits are introduced early in life it becomes less scary and fun or a at least less threatening to come to the dentist :)