Why do college kids gets cavities?

Published 11:48 am Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Healthy Choices by Rachel Nolander-Poppel

So college students, you are home from school on summer break. Has your mom scheduled a dental checkup for you yet? If so, don’t be overly surprised if your previously impeccable teeth now have a cavity or two.

Rachel Nolander-Poppel

Rachel Nolander-Poppel

Why? Because college life wreaks havoc on your oral hygiene regimen and your diet!

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When you were living at home with your folks, your parents likely handled a lot for you: your meals, your laundry, your dentist appointments. Now that you are out from under their roofs, you are choosing what to eat, you are responsible for having clean socks to wear, and you will be or are responsible for your own dental health. Welcome to adulthood.

I fondly remember my college days. They consisted of late nights at the library studying while sipping on 20-ounce bottles of Mountain Dew and snacking on bags of candy from the campus store. Often these late nights at the library were followed by me crawling into my bed without taking the time to brush my teeth because I was too darn tired. This combination of sipping on pop, snacking on fermentable carbohydrates (candy and chips) and skipping the bedtime brushing and flossing routine set up the perfect storm for cavities.

Thankfully, I only got one cavity while I was in college — but it was one too many. Several of my college buddies got much worse reports than me — one of my roommates needed a root canal and 10 fillings! Ouch!

So what can you do to make sure you keep your pearly whites healthy and pain free? Three things.


1. Make your oral hygiene a priority. 

Do not skip brushing and flossing your teeth — especially at night. Your saliva is a key player in preventing dental decay. Saliva buffers acids (think Chem 101) and helps neutralize the acids produced by your oral bacteria after eating anything with carbohydrate in it. At night you produce little saliva; otherwise, you’d choke on it or wake up in a pool of your own drool. So, if you go to sleep with plaque on your teeth or food stuck between your teeth, the acid level in your mouth skyrockets and cavities develop. Take the three minutes to brush and floss, in the morning (preferably after breakfast) and before bed. Use an ADA-approved fluoride toothpaste and a fluoride mouth rinse would be a great idea, too.


2. Try to make healthy eating decisions.

A can of soda and a Pop Tart is not a healthy breakfast selection. Try to avoid soda and sports drinks, or at the very least drink them during a meal. Do not sip on them, like during class or while studying. Every sip of a sugar containing beverage lowers the pH in your mouth to a level where cavities will form for 15 minutes. So sipping keeps the pH at a level where you will likely develop cavities. While at class or studying, try to drink water, Crystal Light or even coffee. These beverages will not cause cavities. Also, try to bring healthy snacks, like fruit, vegetables, and cheese and crackers.  Chips, pretzels, candy, cookies, all these normal vending machine type snacks are loaded with sugar.


3. Don’t forget to visit your dentist every six months for a checkup and cleaning.

Cavities when found early can actually be reversed, or at the very least filled when they are small. All too often college kids skip going to the dentist while they are in college and wait until they have their first job that offers dental insurance. By this point, many have several large cavities.  Sometimes it’s a toothache that finally gets them to call a dentist. Don’t make this mistake. Remember regular preventive dental care is key to keeping a healthy smile for a lifetime.



Rachel Nolander-Poppel is a dentist practicing in Albert Lea.