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Girl brushing teeth

It’s a big transition when your child enters college — for both of you. You may find “cutting the apron strings” a little rocky at times.

But like most parents, you’ll soon condense what you still want your college kid to do down to a few major habits and choices. Be sure to keep health, diet and lifestyle choices on that list, areas which could have the most effect on their long-term health and well-being.

That should include dental care. Hopefully, they’ve already developed good hygiene habits like daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits. But, on their own now, they’re faced with other choices that could affect their dental health.

For example, eating a balanced, nutritious diet is necessary for a healthy mouth. That includes limiting sugar intake, especially when snacking. Disease-causing oral bacteria thrive on carbohydrates like sugar. These bacteria also secrete acid, which at consistently high levels can erode tooth enamel.

Tobacco smoking and excessive alcohol affect teeth and gums because both can inhibit the secretion of saliva. Besides containing antibodies that fight infection, saliva also neutralizes mouth acid. A dry mouth caused by these habits could put their mouth at higher risk for a disease.

Your college student might also be influenced by the fashion of their peers to display piercings. Mouth piercings with lip or tongue hardware, in particular, can damage teeth. The constant movement and friction erodes enamel or may even cause a tooth fracture. If possible, try to steer them to self-expression that poses less risk to their dental health.

There’s one other area that, believe it or not, could impact dental health: sex. While each family handles this particular subject differently, be sure your child knows that some forms of sexual activity increase the risk for contracting the human papillomavirus (HPV16). Among its many destructive outcomes, HPV16 profoundly raises the risk of oral cancer, a rare but deadly disease with a poor survival rate.

Going from home to college is a big step for a young person — and their parents. As a parent, you can help steer them to practice good habits and make wise choices that will protect their lives and health and, in particular, their teeth and gums.

If you would like more information on helping your college student maintain their dental health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Health Tips for College Students.”

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