Though it sounds like an elite academic society, "The Freshman 15" is anything but. The phrase stands for the weight, pegged at 15 pounds, that many incoming students gain in their first few months at college—the result of poor dietary habits brought on by a hectic schedule and newfound freedoms.
These and other habits have consequences—and not just for unwanted pounds. Many can lead to dental problems, which could continue to overshadow a student's oral health long after college is over.
Here, then, are 5 tips to pass along to your newly minted college student (or anyone else, for that matter) to keep their teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
Brush and floss daily. While a hectic course load beckons, a student should still make time every day to brush and floss their teeth. Along with regular dental cleanings, these two tasks remove the daily buildup of plaque, a bacterial film that causes dental disease. Daily oral hygiene is good insurance against developing future tooth decay and gum disease.
Cut back on sugar. A student may rely on sugary snacks for a boost of energy throughout their day, but it could be setting them up for dental disease. That's because harmful oral bacteria also feed on sugar. Choose instead real, whole foods and snacks that are better for teeth—and for avoiding those dreaded freshman pounds.
Limit acidic beverages. Besides added sugar, sodas, sports and energy drinks also contain acid, another ingredient unfriendly to teeth. During prolonged contact, acid softens and erodes the mineral content in tooth enamel, opening the door to tooth decay. Those who drink these kinds of beverages should limit their consumption as much as possible.
Don't smoke. Smoking dries out the mouth, preventing saliva from buffering the acid that causes tooth decay. Its main ingredient nicotine restricts the mouth's blood vessels, further increasing the chances of dental disease. Tobacco use in general, including smoking, is also a key risk factor for oral cancer.
Avoid mouth "jewelry." It might be the bomb on campus, but lip rings, tongue bolts and other mouth jewelry can cause dental damage. Besides the possibility of chipped teeth, metal jewelry in or around the mouth is more likely to cause infection. Better to skip this fashion statement for healthier teeth.
If you would like more information on good oral practices, 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.”
If you think there's not much difference between toothbrushes, a quick look on a retail oral care aisle might change your mind. About the only thing toothbrushes really have in common are a handle and bristled head.
Choosing the right toothbrush, therefore, might seem overwhelming. But choose you must: Your toothbrush is an essential tool in the fight against tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Without it, your odds for developing dental disease skyrocket.
Along with flossing, brushing is the best way to remove daily plaque buildup, that bacterial film most responsible for dental disease. Brushing also minimizes the buildup of tartar, the hardened form of plaque that's just as harmful as softer plaque. And, brushing stimulates your gum tissues to help prevent or lessen inflammation.
But back to all those brushes—with so many options to weigh, how do you come up with your best choice? Actually, there are some basic tips that can help you narrow things down.
Bristle stiffness. Considering other cleaning chores, you might think you'll need a stiff brush. The opposite—a soft-bristled brush—is usually true. Your toothpaste's mild abrasives and the mechanical action of brushing perform most of the plaque removal. And stiffer brushes could irritate and damage your gums or tooth enamel, leading to bigger problems.
Size and shape. Through a little trial and error (and advice from your dentist), you may find a brush with an angled or tapered neck helps you get into difficult places, especially around the back teeth. If you have problems with grip, you may also opt for a brush with a large diameter handle. Bottom line: Choose a brush you feel comfortable handling.
ADA Seal of Acceptance. Common on dental product packaging, this seal indicates that after rigorous testing the item meets the high standards of the American Dental Association, and that it does what the packaging says it does. Even so, some quality brushes don't have this seal, so ask your dentist their opinion on a particular brand.
There's one more critical component—how well you use your toothbrush. For that, ask your dentist or hygienist for tips on better brushing. Combining the right brush and technique goes a long way toward avoiding dental disease.
If you would like more information on choosing the right toothbrush for you, 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 “Sizing Up Toothbrushes.”
Fans everywhere were recently saddened by the news of musical legend Eddie Van Halen's death. Co-founder and lead guitarist for the iconic rock group Van Halen, the 65-year-old superstar passed away from oral cancer.
Van Halen's rise to worldwide fame began in the 1970s with his unique guitar style and energetic performances, but behind the scenes, he struggled with his health. In 2000, he was successfully treated for tongue cancer. He remained cancer-free until 2018 when he was diagnosed with throat cancer to which he succumbed this past October.
Van Halen claimed the metal guitar picks he habitually held in his mouth caused his tongue cancer. It's more likely, though, that his heavy cigarette smoking and alcohol use had more to do with his cancers.
According to the American Cancer Society, most oral cancer patients are smokers and, as in Van Halen's case, are more likely to beat one form of oral cancer only to have another form arise in another part of the mouth. Add in heavy alcohol consumption, and the combined habits can increase the risk of oral cancer a hundredfold.
But there are ways to reduce that risk by making some important lifestyle changes. Here's how:
Quit tobacco. Giving up tobacco, whether smoked or smokeless, vastly lowers your oral cancer risk. It's not easy to kick the habit solo, but a medically supervised cessation program or support group can help.
Limit alcohol. If you drink heavily, consider giving up alcohol or limiting yourself to just one or two drinks a day. As with tobacco, it can be difficult doing it alone, so speak with a health professional for assistance.
Eat healthy. You can reduce your cancer risk by avoiding processed foods with nitrites or other known carcinogens. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables with antioxidants that fight cancer. A healthy diet also boosts your overall dental and bodily health.
Practice hygiene. Keeping teeth and gums healthy also lowers oral cancer risk. Brush and floss daily to remove dental plaque, the bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. You should also visit us every six months for more thorough dental cleanings and checkups.
One last thing: Because oral cancer is often diagnosed in its advanced stages, be sure you see us if you notice any persistent sores or other abnormalities on your tongue or the inside of your mouth. An earlier diagnosis of oral cancer can vastly improve the long-term prognosis.
Although not as prevalent as other forms of cancer, oral cancer is among the deadliest with only a 60% five-year survival rate. Making these changes toward a healthier lifestyle can help you avoid this serious disease.
If you would like more information about preventing oral cancer, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How a Routine Dental Visit Saved My Life” and “Strategies to Stop Smoking.”
Although dental care is our primary focus, we dentists are also on the lookout for other health problems that may manifest in the mouth. That's why we're sometimes the first to suspect a patient may have an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are abnormal dietary patterns that can arise from mental or emotional issues, the most common being anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Each has different behaviors: Anorexics abnormally restrict their food intake (“self-starvation”), while bulimics typically eat heavily and then induce vomiting (“binge and purge”).
Although bulimics are more likely to binge and purge, anorexics may also induce vomiting. That practice in particular can leave a clue for dentists. While vomiting, powerful stomach acid enters the mouth, which can then soften and erode tooth enamel.
It's the pattern of erosion a dentist may notice more than the erosion itself that may indicate an eating disorder. A person while vomiting normally places their tongue against the back of the lower teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid. The more exposed upper teeth will thus tend to show more erosion than the bottom teeth.
A dentist may also notice other signs of an eating disorder. Enlarged salivary glands or a reddened throat and tongue could indicate the use of fingers or objects to induce vomiting. Lack of oral hygiene can be a sign of anorexia, while signs of over-aggressive brushing or flossing may hint of bulimia.
For the sake of the person's overall well-being, the eating disorder should be addressed through professional counseling and therapy. An excellent starting point is the website nationaleatingdisorders.org, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association.
The therapy process can be lengthy, so patients should also take steps to protect their teeth in the interim. One important measure is to rinse out the mouth following purging with a little baking soda mixed with water. This will help neutralize oral acid and reduces the risk of erosion. Proper brushing and flossing and regular dental visits can also help prevent dental disease.
An eating disorder can be traumatic for both patients and their families, and can take time to overcome. Even so, patients can reduce its effect on their dental health.
If you would like more information on eating disorders and dental care, 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
Most of what goes on inside our mouths—good or bad—is fairly predictable. But every now and then, people encounter something out of the ordinary. A good example is lichen planus.
Lichen planus are rare skin lesions that can occur on various parts of the skin, including inside the mouth. The name comes from their lacy appearance, which resembles a fungus that grows on rocks or trees called lichen.
Being similar in appearance, though, is all that lichen planus has in common with its fungal namesake. It's believed that the sores are caused by a reaction of the immune system mistaking some of the body's cells as foreign.
But don't let the exotic sounding name alarm you—true lichen planus is considered a benign mouth sore. You may not even realize you have it until your dentist notices and points it out. But the lesions can sometimes cause mild pain or burning, especially if they occur near the gums or if you indulge in spicy or acidic foods.
As we said, these lesions aren't considered dangerous. But in a small number of cases, oral cancer was found to develop later. It's unclear whether the lesions were related to the cancer, or if what were diagnosed as lichen planus lesions were actually pre-cancerous cells mimicking the appearance of the benign sore.
In any event, your dentist will probably continue to monitor the lesions and possibly conduct regular oral cancer screenings to be on the safe side. You may also want to stop using tobacco or alcohol products to further decrease your risk of oral cancer.
As to managing lichen planus, it starts with a daily habit of brushing and flossing. You'll also want to avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppers or caffeinated drinks, especially during flareups. If the lesions are causing discomfort, your dentist may also prescribe a topical steroid to apply to them.
Since it's quite possible you won't know if you have lichen planus (as well as other types of mouth sores) unless your dentist observes them, you should keep up regular dental visits. Having your dentist check your entire mouth, not just your teeth and gums, will help both of you stay on top of your oral health.
If you would like more information on mouth sores, 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 “Lichen Planus.”
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