Young people head off to college every September. Living on their own for the first time, students may not prioritize routine dental care. During this transitional period, parents can encourage healthy diet and lifestyle choices that help nearly-grown children avoid slipping into bad habits.
Hopefully young adults have already developed good hygiene habits that reduce the chance of dental decay and infection. Gently remind students to brush their teeth twice a day, floss daily, and use mouth wash to kill bacteria. Continue to schedule regular dental checkups and professional cleanings at least twice a year.
While college students may not correlate a healthy diet with a healthy mouth, the food choices they make can and will affect their dental health. Disease-causing oral bacteria thrive on carbohydrates like sugar and secrete acids that can erode tooth enamel. Selecting fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed snacks will limit sugar consumption and lower the risk of decay. Consider renting or purchasing a mini-fridge for the dorm room to make healthy snack options more accessible.
The dangers of alcohol and drug use on campus are well documented. However, most people do not know that consuming alcohol and smoking tobacco inhibits the secretion of saliva which neutralizes acids and fights infection. Over time dry mouth increases the risk of both tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
College is also an important time for self expression. If possible, steer your young adults away from mouth piercings. The constant movement and friction erodes enamel and contributes to the shrinking back of the gums (recession). Let your child know that lip and tongue hardware has been known to chip teeth causing potentially painful and expensive repairs.
Finally, be sure to have a conversation about safe sex. Some forms of sexual activity increase the risk for contracting the human papilloma virus (HPV16) which raises the risk of oral cancer, a rare but deadly disease with a poor survival rate.
Above all, explain to your newly-independent child that inattention to dental health can have consequences that plague them long after graduation. Help steer them toward good habits that will protect their lives, teeth, and gums.