College students with healthy teeth
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Heading off to college for the first time brings a lot of new and exciting experiences. Living independently has many perks, including finally having your life’s steering wheel completely in your hands. But with the privilege of making all your own decisions comes the responsibility of taking care of yourself. 

One important element of your health that still needs regular attention is your oral health. Routine and preventative care for college students will save you money on dental expenses in the long run and help avoid painful dental emergencies. 

Importance of Oral Health for Student College Life

Oral health is important at every stage of your life. But when you are a student living the college lifestyle, your normal routines and habits may be turned upside down. A few things that can greatly affect your oral health that are common among college students are:

  • Snacking
  • Forgetting to brush your teeth
  • Consuming more sugary drinks
  • Added stress from class assignments and finances

In addition to a new routine, new places to go, and new deadlines to make, you may not have your parents reminding you of the importance of oral hygiene while living on your own. 

You may also start new habits of drinking more coffee, sodas, and less water as you start shopping for your own groceries. These decisions affect the health of your mouth, so it is important to continue brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing once a day to make sure your oral health doesn’t suffer.

College student with toothache

Additionally, wisdom teeth can wreak havoc in your mouth because they often get infected or become impacted by the lack of room in your mouth. According to the American Dental Association, wisdom teeth begin erupting when a person is between 17-21 years old, which is when most people attend college. This potentially painful situation, often needing the teeth to be extracted, happens during the typical time young adults go off to college. Making sure you are continuing to see your dentist throughout your college years can help prevent a more dire situation from occurring.

Impact of Poor Dental Hygiene on Stress 

People react differently when put into stressful situations. But for a new college student, the stress of balancing school assignments, work requirements, and new social settings can be completely overwhelming. 

Common responses to high stress are often manifested in anxiety or depression. Without having a parent or someone to point out a change in behavior, many college students neglect to tell someone they are struggling with the stress of college life. Among other negative behaviors that accompany anxiety and depression, a lack of personal hygiene is one of them. Student stress can also develop into oral disorders such as:

Bruxism: Grinding your teeth while sleeping or unaware of clenching teeth during the day due to stress and anxiety.

Xerostomia: Stress can affect your salivary glands. Dry mouth negatively impacts the health of your teeth because your saliva works to wash away food and bacteria from your teeth and gums, and it brings beneficial minerals to your teeth to keep your mouth healthy. Without the production of saliva due to stress, your teeth may suffer. 

Temporomandibular Disorders, or TMD: A set of conditions that cause pain in and around the jaw and cause it to not function properly. This study found that TMD is significantly linked with stress, anxiety, and depression. 

How Oral Health and Mental Health Are Connected 

Oral health not only affects your health in general, but it can also affect mental health in students. If you have untreated tooth decay or visible imperfection in your teeth, studies show it can cause you to be self-conscious, affecting your self-esteem. 

How to Afford Dental Care as a College Student

Understanding that dental care for college students is important is one thing, but being able to afford visits to the dentist and needed dental procedures is another. 

Learning how to budget for dental needs and finding what resources are available to pay for dental care will help you bridge the gap between what you can afford and what your oral needs are. Affordable dental insurance for students and discount plans can give you the financial confidence to afford any dental need you may have while in college. 

Budgeting Tips for Unexpected Emergencies

Man working on dental budget

Dental emergencies do not give you much wiggle room to wait and save up for a needed procedure. You may have a chipped tooth or a painful, impacted wisdom tooth that needs to be seen immediately.

Working a savings plan into your budget will help you set aside money from your paychecks so that you have something to cushion the cost of an unexpected dental emergency. A few tips for budgeting for emergency dental needs are:

  • Decide how much you can comfortably save each month. If you can save even $25 a month to put away in case of a dental emergency, that cash will start to add up, so you won't have to scramble to find money to pay your bill. 
  • Eat out less often. If you typically go out to eat several times a week, choose one week out of the month to eat in your apartment or the cafeteria at school. This will help you put money aside for a dental emergency. 
  • Look for a job on campus. A part time job will certainly help your finances. Also, if your job is on or close to campus, you will end up n saving yourself time and gas money.
  • Carpool or use public transportation. If you need to go off campus to grocery shop or do something fun, carpool or take a bus to save money on gas.

Common Available Student Resources

Because many college students are in a similar transitional period where they are becoming newly independent, several resources are available to help give students the dental care they need. Some of these resources are:

  • The Department of Health and Humans Services provides a list of low-cost dental care facilities in your area
  • Dental offices sometimes provide dental discounts for college students (You may have to ask your dentist)
  • On-campus health services or dental clinics
  • Dental schools often provide services at a lower cost

Health Insurance for Students

There are a few health insurance options for college students. Whether you choose to get your own insurance plan or stay on your parents’ plan, it is important to note that dental care is not always covered. Be sure to check to see what the plan covers and if you can use your insurance for your dental needs.

 A few ways you can get dental coverage as a college student are:

  • The school offers student health plans: Some colleges provide optional health plans to students who do not have insurance. Read over the plan to see what it covers and then consider the cost of being covered by a campus health plan. Plans can cost between $2,000 and $4,000 for an academic year of coverage. 
  • You are covered by your parents' insurance if they declare you as a dependent: You can stay on your parents' health plan up until the age of 26 years old. If your parents' plan gives you dental coverage and you are happy with the plan's details, sticking with your parents' coverage is an easy way to be covered as a college student.
  • Apply for an individual health plan as an independent: Through the Health Insurance Marketplace, you can apply for insurance based on your income rather than that of your parents. 

Dental Financing

Whether you have insurance covering some or none of your dental care, there are options to help pay for your dental expenses without paying out-of-pocket for services or co-pays up front. You can apply for dental financing. 

Break down large dental bills by using a financing marketplace like Smile Genration Financing to connect you with options such as a credit card that can only be used for dental bills . 

Find a Dentist Near Your Campus

You may not have yet connected with a local dentist if you recently moved for school. Finding the right dentist during your years away at college will help you access resources that take the financial burden off your shoulder while still giving you the dental care you need. 

Smile Generation connects college students with experienced local dentists who may provide discount dental plans and other dental financing so you can take care of your teeth while on your own for the first time. Use Smile Generation's Find a Dentist tool to find a dentist in your area so you can make an appointment today. 

Sources:

  • Carrns, Ann, "What You Need to Know About Campus Health Insurance." New York Times, 16 July 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/07/16/your-money/college-health-insurance-plans.html
  • Gholami, Neda,  Behrous Hosseini Sabzvari, Alireza Razzaghi, and Shilan Salah, "Effect of Stress, Anxiety and Depression on Unstimulated Salivary Flow Rate and Xerostomia." NIH,  13 Dec. 2017,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5768958/
  • "In School? Student Health Plans and Other Options." HealthCare.gov, 14 Aug. 2023, https://www.healthcare.gov/young-adults/college-students/
  • Kaur,  Puneet, Simarpreet Singh, Anmol Mathur, Diljot Kaur Makkar, Vikram Pal Aggarwal, Manu Batra, Anshika Sharma, and Nikita Goyal, "Impact of Dental Disorders and its Influence on Self Esteem Levels among Adolescents." NIH, Apr. 2017,  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5449896/
  • Namvar, Mahsa Alavi, Behzad Fathi Afkari, Chamanneh Moslemkhani, Kamyar Mansoori, Mohsen Dadashi, "The Relationship between Depression and Anxiety with Temporomandibular Disorder Symptoms in Dental Students." NIH, 16 Dec. 2021, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35261658/
  • "TMD (Temporomandibular Disorders)." NIH, 14 Aug. 2023, https://www.nidcr.nih.gov/health-info/tmd"Where Can I Find Low Cost Dental Care?" HHS, 14 Aug. 2023, https://www.hhs.gov/answers/health-insurance-reform/where-can-i-find-low-cost-dental-care/index.html
  • "Wisdom Teeth." Mouth Healthy, 14 Aug. 2023, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/all-topics-a-z/wisdom-teeth
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Smile Generation blog articles are reviewed by a licensed dental professional before publishing. However, we present this information for educational purposes only with the intent to promote readers’ understanding of oral health and oral healthcare treatment options and technology. We do not intend for our blog content to substitute for professional dental care and clinical advice, diagnosis, or treatment planning provided by a licensed dental professional. Smile Generation always recommends seeking the advice of a dentist, physician, or other licensed healthcare professional for a dental or medical condition or treatment.