While most teens care about the appearance of their teeth, many do not know a lot about the steps they should be taking to maintain good oral health. But there are a number of teen-specific dental concerns that you and your teen should be aware of. Most teens lead very busy and active lives. Their hectic schedules and increasing independence can translate into less time and effort being spent taking care of their teeth.
Making and maintaining a dental care routine is an essential part of safeguarding oral health. Your teen should be brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day to prevent tooth decay and gum disease caused by dental plaque build-up.
If your teen wears dental braces or other devices made by an orthodontist, it may be necessary for them to use special flosses to clean around wires and brackets and to brush their teeth after every meal to prevent dental plaque and debris from clinging to teeth. It is a good idea for teens to carry a small toothbrush and floss with them or keep these items in their lockers.
Regular dental visits are also an indispensible part of maintaining dental health that is often overlooked during the teen years. It is important for your teen find the time to work regular dental visits and dental cleanings into their schedule to ensure that any problems are caught early on and to promote good oral health.
Many changes occur in the mouth during the teen years. Changes occur during the early teen years, then again during the later teen years.
Second Molars - Typically, between the ages of 12-14 the 2nd molars erupt. This is of significant importance because this is also at the age where good oral hygiene habits are at their worst. Extra care needs to be taken to maintain 6 month checkups and good home care.
Wisdom Teeth - Ages 17-21 is again a time when we see new teeth erupting; the wisdom teeth. Erupting wisdom teeth can cause discomfort in the jaw. If the teen has orthodontic treatment wisdom teeth evaluation is especially important, as they can cause crowding. Sometime in this age range we will take a panoramic X-ray that will show the position of the teeth and will aide in their removal, if necessary.
Swollen Gums - Other changes that occur are often associated with gingivitis (swollen gum tissue). These are typically seen during times of hormonal changes or if your teen is a mouth breather. Early signs of gingivitis are gums that bleed when brushed or flossed, and gums that are bright red and swollen instead of pink. Good oral hygiene habits will help combat this.
If your teen participates in sports, it is very important that they protect their smile while on the field or court. Wearing a mouth guard is the best way to avoid chipped teeth or lost teeth or cut lips.
A mouth guard distributes the force of an impact to all of the teeth that are protected, instead of a single tooth absorbing the brunt of that impact. There are several types of mouth guards available, including boil and bite type models.
If your teen wears dental braces, it is especially important for them to wear a mouth guard or night guard because dental braces can cut and tear the soft tissues of the mouth. And of course, a knocked-out tooth is the ultimate undoing of any orthodontic treatment.
Diet and Nutrition
Many teens thrive on a diet of sugar- and carbohydrate-rich foods. While their overall health may not suffer, their teeth probably will. Sugars and carbohydrates create an ideal environment for dental plaque to thrive. Limiting "junk food" consumption and replacing it with healthy snacks, such as crunchy fruits and vegetables, is the best way to promote good oral health. If your teen has trouble kicking their junk food habit, they can increase the frequency of their brushing and chew sugar-free gum to promote saliva flow.
The teenage years are also when people are most at-risk for developing eating disorders. In addition to the many negative health effects of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia nervosa, they also have disastrous effects on dental health. It is important for you to encourage your teen to eat a balanced and nutrient-rich diet to benefit their long-term overall health and oral health.
Oral piercings are rapidly gaining popularity among teens and young adults. If your teen is considering an oral piercing, encourage them to speak with your dentist about the risks associated with different kinds of piercings.
If they do get a piercing, it is important that they care for it properly and keep in clean to prevent infection, bleeding gums and nerve damage. If your teenager is considering having their tongue, lips, cheek or another oral site pierced or tattooed, some serious consequences should be considered:
- There is a serious risk of infection and allergic reaction.
- Pain and swelling should be expected for several days after getting this done.
- The barbell end will probably cause chipped or broken teeth.
- Jewelry can make eating difficult, and change the way foods taste by affecting your taste buds.
- Jewelry can interfere with speaking clearly.
- More serious effects may occur, such as bone exposure from rubbing contact, nerve damage, permanent drooling, toxic shock or stroke.
- Oral piercings can also chip or crack teeth, so they should be removed during sports or other physical activities to minimize risk
Studies have demonstrated that the majority of long-term tobacco users begin using tobacco products during their teen years. It is important that you remind your teen about the negative health effects of smoking and tobacco use. Most health problems associated with tobacco use, such as tooth and gum staining, dental tartar build-up and bad breath, may not be noticeable until years after use starts. This means that addiction will probably make the habit harder to break by the time they notice its effect.