College Students Oral Health
Millennials and members of Generation Z (Gen Z) have never known life without personal computers and cell phones, so when these groups head to college, convenient and efficient oral health products are required. Preparing these students fully, however, means equipping them to make good decisions about oral health risks associated with college life.
Properly preparing Millennials and Gen Zs—who range in age from 18 to 38—for college life can be difficult. A good first step is a discussion about the basics of oral hygiene such as brushing and flossing. Nutritional counseling, especially as it relates to high sugars and acidic foods, should also be discussed.
To increase the impact of oral health conversations, use visual images. New Albany Smiles, Jeffrey L. Angart, DDS says a picture speaks a thousand words and pictures of plaque and calculus, fractured teeth/restorations, cavities etc, help Millennial and Gen Z patients fully understand their oral health status.”
Many students heading to campus will be living on their own for the first time. The freedom of having unsupervised time and new social opportunities can fill a student’s first fall semester with certain health risks including alcohol and tobacco use and sexual activity. One tool to help quickly manage these risks is to simply educate students with the facts.
The first 6 weeks of the freshman year are when students are considered most vulnerable to harmful drinking.1Research shows that more than 57% of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 had used alcohol in the past month, and more than one-third had participated in binge drinking in the last month.2,3 Tobacco use, too, can raise the risk of oral cancer, so discuss the dangers associated with using tobacco in its various forms.
Even consumption of bottled water—frequently seen on college campuses—can carry risks. The reason is that although many consumers assume bottled water is generally safe, the pH of some brands of bottled water is highly acidic and thus causes cavities.4 Most bottled waters also do not contain fluoride. Bottled water therefore should be evaluated carefully. “Often tap water is the best option,” Speer says.
Body piercing is a relatively recent phenomenon among college-age populations. The ears are the most common site for piercings but the mouth is one of several areas gaining popularity.5 Oral piercings can cause damage to teeth such as enamel erosion, chipping, or even fracture. Discuss these possibilities with their college-bound patients.
The sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) should also be discussed, noting that contracting HPV raises the risk of oral cancer. An HPV infection can lead to cancers of the oropharynx and is believed responsible for 70% of oropharyngeal cancer in the United States.6 One group of researchers found that the most effective communication strategy to improve HPV vaccine uptake is “strong recommendation from a health care provider.”7
As they head to campus, Millennial and Gen Z students can expect to successfully maintain their oral health. This means keeping up oral hygiene practices with the help of convenient brushing and flossing products, while steering clear of hazards that can accompany the freedom of living independently. Properly forewarned and forearmed, this generation of college students can expect to have lasting dental health that is worthy of the highest honors.
- National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Fall Semester—A Time for Parents to Discuss the Risks of College Drinking. Available at: Click here. Accessed August 1, 2019.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Table 6.79B—Alcohol Use in Past Month among Persons Aged 18 to 22, by College Enrollment Status and Demographic Characteristics: Percentages, 2016 and 2017. Available at: Click here. Accessed August 1, 2019.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables. Table 6.79B—Binge Alcohol Use in Past Month Among Persons Aged 18 to 22, by College Enrollment Status and Demographic Characteristics: Percentages, 2016 and 2017. Available at: Click here. Accessed August 1, 2019.
- Wright KF. Is Your Drinking Water Acidic? A Comparison of the Varied pH of Popular Bottled Waters. J Dent Hyg. 2015;89(Suppl 2):6–12.
- Preslar D, Borger J. Body piercing infections. StatPearls. Available at: Click here. Accessed August 1, 2019.
- United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV and Oropharyngeal Cancer. Available at: Click here. Accessed August 1, 2019.
- Kellogg C, Shu J, Arroyo A, et. al. A significant portion of college students are not aware of HPV disease and HPV vaccine recommendations. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2019;15:1760–1766