This is the time of year when many students leave their parents’ homes and head off to college. Being on their own for the first time is exciting and also a little bit scary. They meet new people, make new friends, and learn new things.
They also set new routines and create new habits, not all of which are necessarily good for them.
We bring this up because we see a trend of new cavities amongst our patients who are college kids. This blog will explain why there is an increased risk for cavities among college students.
What Gives College Kids a Higher Risk for Cavities?
There are many different factors in a person’s cavity risk. Some people are inherently at a higher risk than others are. This information does not address inherent risk; we are more concerned with an assumed risk from external factors.
Lack of Consistent Professional Teeth Cleanings
Often college students become immersed in a busy schedule while they are off at school. They may come home on weekends, but usually never with enough time to schedule doctor’s appointments. Many college students also do not feel comfortable finding a brand new dentist in their college town. They have so many things on their minds that they simply let their parents schedule teeth cleanings as always.
Only parents do not have control over the kids’ schedules the way they did while the kids were at home. Now they are at the mercy of school breaks and summertime and an “adult” who may have their own ideas about what to do in their free time.
A lack of consistent professional teeth cleanings leads to an increased risk for both cavities and gum disease. The dental hygienist removes bacterial buildup that you either cannot get to or cannot remove. This is essential in keeping teeth and gums healthy. The bacteria removed by the teeth cleaning are the very ones causing inflammation and tooth decay. Without this teeth cleaning process, these bacteria have plenty of time to create dental problems.
No Consistent Bedtime Oral Hygiene Routine
This is not something we dental-types understand, but apparently, not everyone thinks about his or her teeth before bed every night!
Your college kid just forgets to brush and floss before hitting the sack. You are not there to nag . . . er, remind him about it.
This leads to a similar situation as missing out on consistent teeth cleanings with the dental hygienist. The thing that is worse about this is that this is bacterial overgrowth in areas you can get to and can remove. Bacterial overgrowth = cavities and gum disease.
Now, moms . . . we don’t want to shock you, but there is a good chance your little angels are doing some things they do not want you or their dentist to know about.
Every once in a while, we will extract (no pun intended) a sheepish confession that your college student drinks more beer than water and falls asleep in such a mental state that he can’t find the bed, much less work a piece of floss properly.
Most alcoholic drinks are relatively high in carbs, which increases cavity risk. Sipping on beer or wine spritzers throughout a long tailgate party and football game exposes your teeth to sugar and acid. Add to that the “forgetting” to brush and floss nightly, and you have the perfect storm for cavities.
Others admit to smoking or vaping. These both dry out the mouth, and any mouth that is dry has a higher risk for cavities than one with healthy saliva. Saliva is our body’s natural defense against the bad bacteria that cause gingivitis and cavities. A dry mouth makes it easier for those bacteria to do their dirty work.
Another common cause of cavities in college students is changes in their diets. Many students begin drinking large volumes of coffee, energy drinks or sodas as they stay up all hours of the night studying. They may be snacking on chips, crackers, and all the carbs.
One student told us that her dorm cafeteria offers free soft serve ice cream every night. Well, you can’t pass that up . . .
Suffice it to say that an increased volume of acidic, sugary beverages with a diet high in refined carbohydrates gives you cavities.
How Can You Fight This High Cavity Risk?
The short answer is to do the opposite of the above list.
- Keep consistently scheduled professional teeth cleanings! The easiest way to do this is have one in June and one in December. You can almost always schedule these during summer and winter breaks, with no disruption to the college calendar.
- Develop or encourage a consistent bedtime oral hygiene routine. If you’re the student, you just have to make it a priority. If you’re the parent, you may need to keep doing some gentle reminding of the need for brushing and flossing every night. Don’t wait until your child comes home from college with 12 cavities to encourage her to take good care of her teeth. Start now!
- Avoid these bad habits, students. And parents, talk to your kids about them. Bad teeth are not the only consequence of drinking and smoking. Their overall health and safety are the real reasons this is so important.
- Know what types of foods and drinks increase the risk for cavities, and then do your best to avoid them. Talk to Dr. Ann and Dr. Lauren about your specific cavity risk and what you can do to lower it.
- Invest in professional fluoride treatments at each teeth cleaning! This is a simple, cost-effective way to fight cavities. Professional fluoride treatments strengthen the enamel and help your teeth resist cavities.
Do You Have More Questions about Your College Kid’s Dental Care?
Call today to schedule a visit with Dr. Ann and Dr. Lauren. They can answer any question you have about cavity risk, bad habits, and preventive dental treatment.