By Dr. Stephanie McGann, DMD FAGD, Columnist, The Times
It’s that wonderful time in the spring when the college students soon will be returning home for spring or summer break, looking for jobs, and recharging before the fall term begins. It’s also time as parents to be a bit pro-active about the dental needs of these students. College students have a unique set of dental concerns.
Many students who study away from home have difficulty fitting in the regular six month dental visits. It’s best to try to get school break friendly cycle if possible. In addition to complicated schedules, college students often have dietary changes while they are away at school. The “freshman fifteen” is a common occurrence. Students consume more carbohydrates, eat at more unusual hours, snack while they study and have ready access to vending machines in most dorms. This can play havoc with their oral health.
What can we do? The most important thing is encourage them to see a dentist early in their break at home. Why? Most practicing dentists will tell you how difficult it can be when a student comes in for the regular preventive visit, only to discover they have a dental concern. If the preventive visit is occurring just before they return to school, it’s very difficult to arrange for treatment in such a short time frame. If the preventive visit is early in the break most offices can arrange for treatment before the return to school.
The dental “pack list” for young adults
Power toothbrush with charger
Dental floss or flossers
Plenty of sugarless gum – xylitol is the best sweetener for dental health
Sugarless breath mints
Access to snacks that are a bit healthier than Skittles
What else can we do? Plenty – when your student is home, ask your dentist to give them a fluoride treatment. Not every insurance plan covers this over a certain age, but it’s money well spent on young adults. Many students drink nothing but bottled water and sugary beverages when away at school, these may not contain any fluoride. Encourage them to drink some of the public water (water fountains, or tap water) these often come from municipal water companies that add the appropriate amounts of fluoride. I know many students are fond of keeping a filtering pitcher in their dorm room for a ready supply of drinking water.
If cavities are a problem, get a prescription for extra fluoride gel. These extra fluoride therapies can reduce the number of areas of decay and make the remaining enamel harder and stronger. Chewing sugarless gum after a meal can actually reduce the risk for cavities. While chewing gum containing sugar can do the exact opposite. Students who are clenchers or grinders may need a night guard or other protection appliance to help combat the stress of finals. If your student plays sports, be sure they have been fitted with a professional grade mouth guard. The better the mouth guard fits the more likely it is to worn and in the proper place when an impact occurs.
And finally with all young adult patients, it’s important to remember the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Many young adults are without dental benefits. While it seems easy to just “skip” their preventive visits at this time, but it’s actually more important than ever. A small concern that would be simple, quick and inexpensive to address may progress to a larger concern later. Food for thought – families who never have had the luxury of insurance are often our most regular patients.
Welcome home to our college kids, best of luck with your summer job hunt and don’t forget to floss.
Dr. Stephanie McGann, who has more than two decades of dental practice experience, is a resident of the Unionville area and along with her partner, Dr. Marie Scott, operates The Brandywine Smile Center, a family-friendly dental practice in Concordville. Dr. McGann has opened a new practice in Valley Township, Rainbow Valley Dental. She is a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry.