Most college students are well aware of the Freshman 15, a term that describes the weight gain many young adults experience during their first (and subsequent) years at university. What they may not know is the college experience can also have a negative effect on their oral health. Here's more information about this and what you can do to protect your teeth and gums so you graduate with a beautiful smile.

Party 'Til the Cavities Come In

There are several different ways college students damage their teeth at school. One common way is engaging in a party lifestyle and consuming alcohol. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 4 out of 5 students drink alcohol, and at least 50 percent of them engage in binge drinking.

Alcohol is your teeth's nemesis for a number of reasons. First, the carbonation in beer and similar beverages is highly acidic and can erode the enamel on your teeth. Second, the sugar in these drinks encourages the growth of bacteria. Since most college students don't brush right after drinking, these tiny organisms often have hours to produce acids that damage teeth, leading to the development of cavities and oral infections over time.

Last, alcohol is a diuretic that causes people to pee a lot, often resulting in them becoming dehydrated. People don't produce as much saliva when they are dehydrated, and saliva is necessary for helping wash away bacteria and other organisms that are harmful to your teeth and gums.

The Never-ending Quest for Energy

Even if you're not a person who likes to party 'til the wee hours of the morning every weekend, you can still damage your teeth with the foods and drinks you choose to consume. In particular, many college students down can after can of energy drinks to help them stay up studying at night or avoid falling asleep in class the next day.

These energy drinks have the same effect on your teeth and gums as drinking beer because they are also typically carbonated, contain loads of sugar, and have caffeine- which can act as a diuretic depending on how often you consume caffeinated beverages. In fact, a study conducted in 2012 found that energy drinks damaged teeth twice as badly as sports drinks.

However, energy drinks aren't the only dietary culprit. More often than not, students will choose to nosh on pizza, chips, and candy rather than consume healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. This can result in them not getting an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and vitamin C, needed to strengthen teeth and stave of oral diseases.

Protecting Your Pearly Whites

Taking care of your teeth doesn't mean you have to completely eschew all the pleasures of campus life. However, you will need to make a bigger effort to take care of your teeth than you probably would in any other environment. Start by consuming carbonated and sweet drinks in moderation or not at all, and rinse your mouth with water afterwards to help remove some of the residue left behind.

While you should brush your teeth after drinking and eating anything, it's best to wait a minimum of 30 minutes before doing so. This is because the acids in foods and drinks soften enamel, and you may inadvertently brush it away if you clean your teeth too soon.

The same goes for cleaning your mouth after vomiting. The acids in your stomach can also soften and damage enamel, so you'll simply want to rinse your mouth with water after worshipping the porcelain throne instead of brushing your teeth right away.

Avoid eating or drinking anything before going to bed, or at least never fall asleep without brushing your teeth. Leftover food particles attract bacteria that will then spend all night feeding and producing acid on your teeth. If you're too tired or drunk to spend two minutes cleaning your teeth, at least give them a fighting chance by rinsing your mouth with an antibacterial mouthwash.

Lastly, drink plenty of water and make an effort to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables in between slices of pizza and mugs of beer. The water will prevent you from becoming dehydrated, minimizing your risk of experiencing the side effects of dry mouth, and the fruits and veggies will provide your body with the vitamins and minerals required to keep teeth strong and healthy.

For more tips on maintaining good oral health in college, talk to a dentist, or visit sites like