As a dentist, Boise is a unique city. Our patients are Boise natives, newcomers, and college students from all over the world. We see all kinds of people at our practice and they have all types of dental needs. When it comes to college students, though, we see some pretty persistent trends.
College students tend to have more cavities than high school students, and also more than adults who don’t attend college.
College students, especially freshmen, find themselves with a newfound sense of freedom. If you’re in college, especially in your first year, you can probably relate. If you ever attended college, you probably remember that feeling too. It’s an amazing sensation.
Unfortunately, that newfound sense of freedom often brings along the desire to eat Oreos for breakfast, skip out on sleep, and have more than a couple alcoholic beverages. It’s tempting to live a different lifestyle once you’re away from home, but you can still have a great college experience and take care of yourself at the same time.
As you adjust to campus life, you have more access to junk food. It’s everywhere, from the student union building, to the dining hall, to vending machines in nearly every building on campus. Unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks are everywhere, and it’s easy to indulge.
Those junk foods and sugary drinks are bad for your teeth, but they have other adverse effects, too. They cause weight gain and can cause you to feel sluggish. They can even become addictive.
Northwestern University reports 95% of college students fail to eat the recommended portion of fruits and vegetables per day, and 60% don’t get enough exercise to offset their new, unhealthy diet.
What do you eat and how much do you exercise?
If you answered “junk” and “not enough,” you’re definitely not alone. But your newfound freedom isn’t entirely to blame. Stress might be involved, too.
Kappa Omicron Nu’s undergraduate research committee collected some interesting research, as well:
“… one study that evaluated the cardiovascular health needs of college students found that nearly 60 percent of the students rated their stress levels as high or very high. The experience of stress is likely to be a regular occurrence in the lives of new college students, given the nature of the transition that they are making.”
Your nutritional needs change when you’re faced with stress, and it’s easy to turn to comfort food instead of pushing through and making healthier choices. Many of KON’s research subjects did just that.
It’s up to you to push through the stress and the temptation and choose healthier options. You’ll feel better, you’ll gain less weight, and your teeth will be healthier, too.
LiveStrong.com recommends filling half of your plate with vegetables at the dining hall, and then placing some fruit, grilled chicken, and hard-boiled eggs on it as well. They also recommend avoiding processed foods and opting for curry, veggie or tofu stir-fries, and made-to-order omelettes.
We all indulge once in awhile, so an occasional slice of pizza is okay. Just don’t eat it at every meal, even if it’s available to you.
According to the University of Alabama, 60% of college student don’t get enough sleep. You’re likely one of them. It’s understandable, too– there’s so much to do and see in college, and you have to keep up with your grades while taking in all of those new experiences.
In an op-ed for the New York Times, Anna North writes:
“My college sleepiness wasn’t my school’s fault — I had some flexibility in my schedule, and I didn’t take any early-morning classes. Rather, I just didn’t care about sleeping — I did everything else, from working to studying to hanging out with my friends, first. I was operating under the assumption — common among my classmates at the time, if memory serves — that sleep didn’t matter.”
Anna’s experience isn’t unique. Most college students struggle to find a balance between class, studying, money issues, athletics, volunteer and extracurricular work parental expectations, and their own social lives.
Still, according to Harvard, lack of sleep can lead to:
- heart disease
- mood disorders
- a low-functioning immune system
It can also affect your memory and other cognitive abilities, which makes studying even harder. Thankfully, you can mitigate some of the damage by setting a class schedule that works well with your sleep schedule and other obligations.
A schedule only goes so far, though. Here are some tips on sleeping better from EverydayHealth.com:
- Avoid caffeine at night and limit your intake during the day
- Don’t drink alcohol before bed
- Create a sleep schedule and keep to it
- Get up around the same time every day
- Put homework and studies away at least 30 minutes before bed
- Don’t work or study on your computer or phone in bed
- Exercise earlier in the day, not before bed
- Don’t watch TV, Netflix, or other streaming video before bed
- Use earplugs and an eye pillow to drown out light and noise from others in your dorm, house, or apartment
- Turn out the lights when it’s time for bed
If all else fails, BSU and most other area schools can refer you to a sleep specialist if you visit the campus health center.
You might drink during your time at college and you might not. Many students do. If you’re going to drink, there are a few health concerns to keep in mind.
Most alcoholic beverages contain at least 100 calories, and those add up quickly at a party or a night on the town. Most drinks have much more sugar than you think they do, as well.
We recommend you always brush your teeth after you’re done drinking for the night, even if all you want to do is climb in bed. Once you get in the habit of not brushing your teeth, even if it’s just on weekends, those habits tend to stick.
Try to only consume moderate amounts of alcohol, if of age. Drink a glass of water in between each drink. Water will fill you up, slow you down, and help you take it easy– but it will also help you feel much better the next morning.
College is a special time for most people. You fill your brain with knowledge, find your passion, and make new friends. With your newfound freedom, it’s easy to let your health, and caring for your teeth, fall by the wayside. Enjoy your time at school, but focus on eating healthy, moderating your alcohol intake, and getting enough sleep. Your brain, your body, and your teeth will thank you for it.