Why Being a College Student Can Bring Unique Health Risks
If you’re a college student, then it’s very likely you haven’t received any kind of specialized dental advice for people your age. Young adults ages 18-24 often get lumped into the “adults” category when receiving dental care, but the fact is, college students have their own unique set of risk factors that differentiate them from other age groups.
These oral health risks for college students may not all apply to you, but it’s also very possible that you don’t know all their implications. At Penn Family Dental Practice, we’re here to give you the facts so you can stay informed.
Don’t forget that as a dental care provider, we are required by law to keep all your information private. When you visit us, you can be fully confident that your answers will be kept confidential. Our priority is to give you the best possible information and advice based on what you tell us about your lifestyle.
3 Risk Factors for College Students
- Alcohol Use
At college, it’s not uncommon for many students to go to all-night parties or other events where there’s drinking. Many students are not aware of how many drinks actually qualifies as binge drinking, which pushes their blood-alcohol level over .08. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that 80% students regularly consume alcohol, and half of those who consume alcohol binge drink. For men, that means 5 or more drinks in the space of two hours, and for women, that’s 4 or more drinks in two hours.
Heavy alcohol use is an oral health risk factor for college students due to xerostomia, or “dry mouth” (which is also a cause of bad breath). Alcohol reduces the saliva produced in your mouth, and creates a hospitable environment for bacteria. Simply put, if you’re a big alcohol consumer, you are at a higher risk for getting cavities. One way you can address this is to chew gum that has xylitol (a nonfermentable sugar alcohol), which will turn your mouth into an unfavorable environment for those nasty bacteria!
- Tobacco and Marijuana Use
Students are at an increased health risk when they use tobacco and/or marijuana. A 2004 survey of US universities showed that 51% of students who smoke say they do it socially. Even though social smoking obviously isn’t as intense or frequent as traditional smoking, statistics show that attempts to quit are much lower. If you smoke socially, it’s important to realize that this still puts you at risk for oral cancer and cavities.
Similarly, marijuana use can have damaging effects on your oral health. 33.2% of college students use marijuana every year. Like drinking and smoking, using marijuana affects your saliva production. Even a slight change in saliva production can greatly increase your risk for gum disease and cavities. The inflammation caused by gum disease will break down your connective tissue and bone, which can lead to tooth loss. Extended use of marijuana can damage every part of your mouth: your teeth, gums, lips, cheeks, and even the roof of your mouth.
- Stress and Lack of Sleep
Stress and lack of sleep aren’t problems limited only to college students, but they are definitely big players on the college scene. If you’re like others, you might not pay close attention to basic hygiene routines during high-stress periods, and you’re more likely to turn to tobacco or alcohol to ease your anxiety. If you’re a high-achiever, you likely experience higher levels of stress as well, which isn’t just an emotional response; it’s also physiological. Your sympathetic nervous system reacts to high stress by decreasing salivary flow, which again, increases your risks for cavities.
You are also at higher risk for gum inflammation, or gingivitis. Studies show that high-stress periods (final exam week is a good example) can cause your body to secrete an inflammatory cytokine, a molecule associated with your immune system response. High levels of this molecule can initiate inflammatory processes in your body, including your gums. That’s why it’s important for you to visit your dentist regularly, preferably every six months. If stress or lack of sleep is causing problems for you, we’ll catch them early and advise you on ways you can avoid their harmful effects on your body.
If you are dealing with excessive stress and lack of sleep, be sure to check with your university for the support services they have available.
We’re Here to Help Minimize Oral Health Risks for College Students
As your dentist, our priority is to keep you well and free of oral problems. If you’re aged 18-24, you might be facing any one or more of the oral health risks for college students mentioned above. We hope to help you avoid these issues and the more serious problems that can crop up down the line as a result of these health risks.
To learn more about oral health and practical ways to keep your mouth squeaky-clean during the college years, we invite you to read other blogs on our website. We also invite you to make an appointment with us by calling 215-898-PDFP today. Give yourself the happy, healthy life you deserve. You’ll never regret taking the time to take care of yourself!
Penn students, be sure to check out the special insurance plan offered by Penn Dental Family Practice, just for you!