Forming good habits in independence
Julie Deverick talks about what dental professionals can do to improve the oral health of students before they discover bad habits at university
As we head into autumn, it’s time for thousands of individuals to begin higher education. In fact, in 2018 alone, more than a quarter of all 18 year olds from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland got accepted into universities – record breaking numbers that prove how popular higher education remains for those leaving secondary school.
For many, this is the first chance they get to experience being self-sufficient and away from their parents, allowing them to exercise their freedom, make their own decisions and find their own way through life. Of course, with this step comes big responsibilities, and it is little surprise that for many of these young adults the shock of having to do their own laundry, buy their own food, budget and pay bills can be a bit of a reality check.
With all of these aspects of life to consider, it’s little surprise oral health may fall by the wayside, especially as the university lifestyle itself can promote bad habits. When people are given the freedom to eat what they like for the first time it’s inevitably going to lead to a spike in junk food and other treats that they would not have eaten so often at home.
A study that recorded the average weight gain experienced by university students during their first year found that an increased intake of sugar and other poor dietary choices were to blame. Of course, this is bad news for teeth too, as sugar can quickly cause cavities.
What other behaviour do we instantly associate with students? If you answered heavy drinking, you wouldn’t be wrong. Binge drinking is often seen as part of the student experience, and with events such as freshers’ week, Carnage UK (a bar crawl that often lives up to its name), club socials and other reasons to head to the bar, it’s little wonder that alcohol consumption among students is high.
According to data gathered by the National Union of Students, as many as 20% of students say they get drunk on purpose at least once a week. Among this figure, 2% say they drink every day and 23% drink heavily two to three days a week.
As well as many alcoholic beverages containing high levels of sugar (a Jägerbomb usually contains as much as 21g of sugar), excessive consumption has also been proven to alter the oral bacteria, leaving teeth more prone to decay.
So, what can you do as a dental hygienist or dental therapist? It might be worth contacting any nearby universities to see if you can have a stall at freshers’ week to help remind students that their oral health is important.
It is also a good idea to hold an open day or run promotions for new student patients, if possible. By encouraging them to consider their oral health from the start, it’s likely they will form good habits during their time at university, which they can continue into graduate life.
Some students may remain registered with their dentist back at home, but this doesn’t mean you can’t help them through simple awareness. You could try contacting medical centres on campus to see if you can put up posters.
As long as these individuals are getting the care they need, they can enjoy their first breath of freedom away from home without having to worry about their dental health deteriorating.