According to the NCES (National Center for Education Statistics), the number of entering freshman bound for 2-year and 4-year colleges is more than two-and-a half million, most of whom are in their late teenage years.
Many of these young people will be entering dormitory living for the first time, totally unprepared for the kinds of health issues that can occur from poor diet, lack of sleep, excessive partying and the general stress of academic life. And every year these kinds of environmental factors translate into a host of dental problems from dental decay (cavities), periodontal (gum) disease, TMJ (joint) pain, grinding/ clenching of teeth, and problems with impacted third molars (wisdom teeth) which are often problematic during the eruption period of 17-21 years old.
These problems can often be disrupting and debilitating during the course of an academic semester. So, as summer is winding down, here are my tips for the freshman student who is preparing to leave for college.
1. Schedule a dental check up now.Do not wait until the week before you leave for school as this leaves little or no time to treat any dental issues that may be present. A full check up is important with a dental cleaning, and radiographs (X-rays) which is the only way to detect small cavities that may be starting between teeth. Don't forget to get your new toothbrush and floss.
2. Get your wisdom teeth checked.Third molars (wisdom teeth) often erupt during college years, and if they are malpositioned (impacted) they can result in pain and/or infection requiring emergency attention. A panoramic X-ray showing the entire jaw or dental CT scan should be taken and evaluated by a dentist and/or oral surgeon.
3. Ask for a protective nightguard appliance.If you find that you grind or clench your teeth under stress, tell your dentist, who can fabricate a simple and comfortable nightguard for you to wear especially during stressful periods. This can prevent damage such as chipping and wear to your teeth, and alleviate the pain and discomfort associated with these habits.
4. For a treat, have your teeth whitened.Entering a new living environment and the exciting world of college life can also be unsettling and make you a little anxious or nervous. Nothing boosts self-esteem and confidence like a pretty smile. Teeth whitening can often be done in one dental visit and can leave you with a great, positive feeling about yourself.
5. Begin eating healthy NOW.Probably the most fundamental element of good health, and especially dental disease prevention, is nutrition. Start to make the right food and drink choices eliminating refined carbohydrates, sugars and carbonated beverages (which are acidic in the mouth). Go for more greens and fresh fruits and vegetables BEFORE you leave for school. It will be much more difficult once you are on campus.
With this simple dental planning and prevention, you'll be starting your college years with a future that will be giving you a lot more to smile about!
Dr. Gerry Curatola is a renowned aesthetic dentist and pioneer in the emerging field of rejuvenation dentistry, which improves patients' overall health and appearance by integrating total wellness with cutting edge oral care and restorative procedures. In addition to his private practice, research, and work as a Clinical Associate Professor at NYU College of Dentistry, he is an internationally sought after speaker, author and expert who has been featured widely in print and broadcast media. For more information, go to rejuvenationdentistry.com.