Dental Care Among College Students: Stats, Tips & More (Guide)

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Table of Contents

  1. College Students Forget Dental Care
  2. College Students Dental Problems
  3. College Student Dental Tips
  4. Why Good Oral Health Is Important
  5. Dental Treatment Options
  6. References

Dental hygiene routines may be the last thing on many college students’ minds, but neglecting oral health can have serious consequences to their health

Maintaining dental health and good daily routines can promote confidence and consistency that can prove useful in other areas of life.

Why college students may forget about dental care

For many students, attending college is among the most exciting times in their lives. In addition to discovering or pursuing a career and educational path, their college journey will likely include meeting new people, gaining life experience, and experiencing a new level of independence.

However, along with these inspiring opportunities, many college students also face unexpected challenges. Each student’s path is different, and so is their unique set of circumstances. Some may feel overwhelmed by the pressure of a demanding academic program. Others may feel burdened by financial responsibilities as they try to balance school with work. Many will be experiencing the insecurity of leaving home or their family for the first time and having to navigate day-to-day life on their own.

Students react to these challenges in different and sometimes problematic ways, especially when they don’t communicate their issues to others or don’t realize there are resources available to them to help them cope. Sometimes, their response to the challenges of college life can be dramatic. They may turn to drinking or substance use, act out socially, or become depressed. 

For others, it may be more subtle, such as becoming withdrawn socially, experiencing anxiety or insomnia, or missing home and family. Either way, as they battle these struggles, it can be easy for a student to slip into bad patterns and forget about the important daily routines that will keep them healthy and successful. This includes daily dental hygiene.

Dental problems faced by college students

These are some of the most common issues that exacerbate dental problems with college students:

While most students look forward to and enjoy the newfound freedoms of the college experience, many will struggle to prioritize their day-to-day tasks and routines. In a recent national survey, a vast majority of college students expressed difficulty with time management and organization.  

These factors can contribute to a decline in a student’s dental care and hygiene.1 Without supervision, students who are struggling with disorganization and an overloaded schedule may begin neglecting their dental routines by reducing their brushing or skipping flossing and missing or skipping regular dentist visits.

The college years have long been romanticized in movies and media as a time of partying, exploration, and self-discovery. Now, there is more awareness about the stress college students also face and its short-term and long-term effects. 

This stress can affect the oral health of students in a number of ways, such as these:

  • Students who are battling with stress may struggle with feelings of anxiety or depression. Their new environment and daily demands may also bring underlying problems, like anxiety or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), to the forefront.2 All of these issues can make it harder for a student to tackle daily tasks, like an effective dental hygiene routine or the scheduling of regular dentist visits.

  • Stress can weaken the body’s immune system, causing inflammation and lowering the number of white blood cells that help fight off viruses and infections. This can have a significant impact on the student’s oral health, as many oral health issues (like gum problems and gum disease) are caused by plaque bacteria that builds up and irritates the gums.A student whose immune system is weakened by stress may be more likely to experience swollen or inflamed gums, which can lead to gum disease (periodontitis) and tooth decay. These bacteria can even travel to other parts of the body through the bloodstream and respiratory tract.

  • Stress may cause dry mouth, which can increase the risk of gum problems and tooth decay.

  • Students who are stressed may be more likely to develop the habit of tooth grinding (also called bruxism), which can lead to jaw problems and weakened tooth enamel.

When meeting new people and embarking on their new educational and career journey, especially in the time of online classes and meetings, students may become more aware or even more self-conscious about their smile. Issues like tooth decay or a crooked bite may bother them more. This can affect their confidence and contribute to feelings of insecurity or depression.3

For students who are working to support themselves or their education, dental care (like regular dentist visits or needed treatments) may seem like a luxury they simply can’t afford. Whether it’s out-of-pocket costs or the inability to take time off from work, the costs of dental care often stand in the way of students getting needed preventative and ongoing treatment.

A consistent and effective daily dental care routine can make all the difference in long-term oral health and should include the following:

  • Brush teeth twice a day, for at least two minutes, using a fluoride anti-cavity toothpaste.

  • Floss daily with regular floss, floss picks, interdental brushes, or water flossers.

  • Rinse every day with an antiseptic mouthwash.

Here are some other dental care tips:

  • Never share a toothbrush even with a close friend or roommate.

  • Pack a travel dental care bag so you’re prepared to care for your smile when you stay at a friend’s or visit family.

  • Change your toothbrush when you notice it’s worn, after you’ve been sick, or every three months. 

  • Find a toothbrush and toothpaste you enjoy using.

  • Never skip a morning or night brushing.

  • Try to eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Limit sugary snacks or treats, and make sure to brush or floss if you do indulge in sweets.

Why is good oral health important for college students?

Dental care may seem like a low-priority issue to many college students as they pursue new and exciting educational and social endeavors. However, oral health and daily dental hygiene can have more of an impact on their day-to-day lives than they realize.

  • Oral health is overall health. Research continues to show a strong connection between oral health and general health, especially with uncontrolled plaque bacteria contributing to inflammation throughout the body.Inflammation is a major factor in many illnesses and chronic health conditions. The plaque-inflammation connection is one reason gum disease is linked to problems like diabetes, stroke, and even heart conditions.

  • Good dental hygiene reduces overall health costs. Preventative care, like a good daily dental hygiene routine and regular dentist visits, helps to ensure a student doesn’t need costly procedures like root canals or dental implants in the future. Preventative care can also lower the risk of stressful and expensive emergency procedures like infections and abscesses.

  • The power of routine is significant. In times of stress, healthy daily routines have been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety and depression and promote good mental health.4 A student can take pride in the fact that they take care of their teeth and are able to maintain a consistent and effective routine. This confidence can translate to other areas of their life as well.

Dental treatment options for college students: affordability & accessibility

For students with limited funds, receiving adequate dental care can be very challenging. Some may not have insurance or the money to cover out-of-pocket costs.

Fortunately, there are resources available to college students seeking affordable care.

  • Dental schools: A university with a dental department or a dental school usually offers free or low-cost services. The services are usually performed by faculty or a supervised advanced dental student. The American Dental Association offers a searchable directory of dental programs that may offer these services.

  • Local free and low-cost dental clinics: By calling your local health department, you can find out about low-cost and community dental centers in your area. The federal Bureau of Primary Health Care may also have information about federally funded services available. The United Way may also have resources available.

  • Student discounts and affordable dentists: Some dentists offer student discounts and more affordable rates. Research local dentist online and call about promotions and discounts.

  • Campus resources: If you have on-campus dental services available, contact them about discounted rates and payment plans.

For students looking to improve the appearance of their smile, there are also more affordable and accessible options available on the market, including a wide variety of tooth whitening products and convenient at-home teeth aligner kits.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.