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Freshman Dental Tips for Students Living Away from Home for the First Time

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It’s the end an era: You’ve earned your diploma, said farewell to good friends and you’re ready for the next phase of your life. College is an exciting time for many young adults. It’s a time of independence and exploration, full of new experiences. For students living away from home for the first time, it can also be a scary and stressful time. Now, you’re responsible for your own well-being and cannot always rely on your family to help. Between getting used to classes, making new friends and settling into your dorm room, many college students neglect their dental health. The rush of college life, changes in routine and changes in diet all contribute to poor oral health in college-age young adults. How can students living away from home for the first time take better care of their teeth? Here are five tips.

Develop Good Dental Habits

Settling into college life can take some time. While orienting yourself to the campus, creating a new schedule and the whirlwind of college social life, don’t forget to include good oral habits as part of your daily routine. Here’s a quick refresher of what good dental habits look like:

1. Brush Your Teeth Twice a Day

The American Dental Association says to brush your teeth twice a day: in the morning when you wake up and again before you head to bed. That seems simple enough to follow, but only when you have a consistent routine. College students do not have consistent routines. Thanks to late-night studying, parties and Netflix binges (most of us are guilty of that last one), many college students develop erratic sleeping schedules. This means that they often forget to brush or sometimes just feel too lazy to do so (most of us have been guilty of that last one, too). Not brushing your teeth before going to bed leads to the buildup of bacteria and plaque in your mouth, Sarah Klein writes at The Huffington Post. Plaque that isn’t removed from your teeth can lead to the formation of tartar and cavities, and it can cause your gums to bleed. Not sure if you’re brushing your teeth correctly? Dr. Mark Burhenne at AskTheDentist.com has a guide to brushing your teeth the right way. The key is to gently wiggle your toothbrush so that the bristles clean each tooth as well as between the teeth. You should also clean your teeth in sets to ensure that all your teeth are cleaned.

2. Floss Once a Day

When you’re brushing your teeth, also take the time to floss once as a day. There is no ideal time to floss; the act of flossing is more important than the time of day you do it. One way to make room for flossing: Add another 3–5 minutes to your bathroom routine. Ashley May at USA TODAY cites this shocking statistic on flossing: nearly a third of adults say they never floss (though nearly the same number say they’ve flossed every day in the last week). So, what happens when you don’t floss? Lauren Friedman at Business Insider has a list of 13  consequences, from bad breath to tooth loss to an increased risk of gum disease. To help cultivate the habit of flossing, Leo Babauta at ZenHabits shares five steps that helped him form the habit:

  1. Let another habit (e.g. brushing) act as a trigger. You build a habit more easily when you piggyback it onto an existing habit.
  2. Have a visual reminder somewhere to jog your memory, even if that’s just having your floss on the bathroom counter beside your toothbrush.
  3. Start by flossing just one tooth.
  4. Pay attention to how satisfying flossing actually feels when you do it.
  5. “Mark a big X on your calendar” for every day you remember to floss so you can see your progress.

3. Use Fluoride Toothpaste

Lauren Cox at LiveScience asked a group of dentists whether everyone needs fluoride toothpaste. The answer: It’s highly recommended, which is as close as any medical professional can get to saying “Yes.” Topical fluoride (e.g. fluoride toothpaste) can help prevent tooth decay and strengthen tooth enamel. Fluoride in general remineralizes tooth enamel and can stop the formation of cavities.

4. Replace Your Toothbrush Every 3 to 4 Months

Most people do not replace their toothbrushes as often as they should. The ADA recommends replacing your toothbrush every 3 to 4 months, but it’s something that is easy to forget. The problem is that a worn-out toothbrush loses its effectiveness. Dr. Burhenne says that a worn toothbrush’s bristles become jagged, and so they can become too abrasive and wear away your tooth enamel. If you need help remembering to replace your toothbrush, here’s a helpful visual: According to Beth Levine at HuffPost, the average toothbrush can contain 10 million bacteria or other germs — including E. coli and staph. Levine also suggests occasionally cleaning your toothbrush with hydrogen peroxide or mouthwash, drying out your toothbrush between cleanings and not sharing your toothbrush.

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Limit Your Coffee Intake

Essay deadlines, mid-terms, finals. Late nights become common for college students, and with late nights come cups and cups of coffee. Too much coffee leads to stained teeth, however, and can weaken your teeth. Tooth enamel is porous, which is why dark drinks such as coffee can stain your teeth. Coffee is also high in acid, which can cause the enamel of your teeth to erode over time. It’s best to limit your coffee intake for the sake of your oral health. But if you are addicted to coffee, there are several steps you can take to limit its negative effects on your teeth. Ann Hills at Our Home Love suggests drinking coffee through a straw and not swishing the liquid in your mouth. You may also want to rinse your mouth with water after coffee. To avoid damaging acid-softened teeth, be sure to wait at least one hour after drinking coffee before brushing your teeth.

Watch Your Soda Consumption

Sugar is the enemy of good oral health. As Healthline points out, two bacteria present in our mouth — Streptococcus mutans and Streptococcus sorbrinus — act on the sugar we consume and causes the formation of dental plaque. This plaque, if not removed through brushing, can lead to the formation of cavities. This is actually a widespread problem, too: Half of adults drink a sugar-sweetened beverage every day, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. So, how do you avoid falling into that trap? Start by replacing sugar-sweetened drinks with water. Leanna Smith at The Odyssey Online gave up soda and reports that her acne dissipated, her sleep quality improved and the dark circles under her eyes went away. Amy Schlinger at Prevention.com had similar results. She stopped drinking Diet Coke, replacing it with seltzer and water. Schlinger found that giving up soda improved her sleep, gave her more energy and prevented bloating.

healthy snack

Choose Healthy Snacks

Once you’re in college, snacking becomes an art form. No time in between classes for lunch? Grab a snack. Too busy finishing off an assignment to have dinner? Snacks fill you up while you work. Snacking isn’t necessarily bad, but unhealthy snacking can have a negative effect on your dental health. Nano-b has a list of the worst drinks and food for your teeth and gums, and they include energy drinks, candy, potato chips and popcorn. Laura Udesky at HealthDay writes that snacks that are low in starch and sugar are best for dental health. She suggests raw vegetables, nuts such as almonds and walnuts, and cheese as healthy snacks for a healthy mouth. If you’re considering completely cutting out sugar, check out blogger Chriselle Lim’s account of what happened when she quit refined sugar. She made the lifestyle change in order to gain control of her sugar addiction. While it was initially tough, she was eventually able to swap out sugary desserts for fruits or sugar-free alternatives. Cutting out refined sugar made her more productive and energetic and improved her skin. The key to good dental health is to choose healthy, natural sugars instead of food with refined sugar.

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Find a Local Dentist

Moving to college sometimes means moving away from your family dentist. As such, it’s important to find a new dentist in your area as soon as possible. Jennifer Braico at Health Grades has a few tips for finding a new dentist:

  • Research local dentists before you move.
  • When you find a good candidate, check with your insurance to make sure you’re covered.
  • Book an initial consultation to get to know that dentist personally before you commit.

There could also be a dental clinic on campus, which would be a convenient and cost-effective option. If so, compare that clinic’s services and costs with other dentists in the area. Remember, too, that a visit to the dentist is recommended every 6 months. To make sure you don’t forget, use a calendar app to input your dental appointment reminder, and set it as a recurring event.   Images by: stevepb, Free-Photos, __Sherry__, StockSnap

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