Vital Signs: Brush away bad dental care

By Anna Kellaher
Columnist

Being away at school may make it more difficult to get to the dentist every six months. You’re away from home for most of the year and your parents are no longer there to nag you about making an appointment.

However, Penn Dental Family Practice reports three risk factors college students face that make an annual trip to the dentist’s office very important.

Smoking tobacco or marijuana increases the risk of gum disease (Flickr).

The first risk factor is alcohol use. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 80 percent of college students consume alcohol on a regular basis.

Alcohol reduces the amount of saliva produced, which leads to dry mouth. This not only causes bad breath, but also creates a perfect environment for bacteria, which increases the risk of developing cavities.

The second risk factor is smoking tobacco or marijuana. The nicotine in cigarettes and e-cigarettes is associated with increased biofilm production. Biofilms are thin, slimy layers of bacteria that stick to surfaces.

When biofilms form on your teeth, they can cause cavities. Smoking marijuana also decreases saliva production. Changes in saliva production alter the environment of your mouth, which can increase the risk of gum disease and cavities.

The final risk factor for poor oral health is stress and lack of sleep. Your nervous system responds to stress by decreasing saliva production.

During particularly high stress periods, your body may secrete substances called inflammatory cytokines. These molecules cause an inflammatory response that can affect your gums.

To prevent this damage to your oral health, be sure to schedule that dentist’s appointment as soon as you can.

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