Oral Health Buzz
Teenagers and Healthy Teeth: What Parents Need to Know
Donna M. Rounsaville, RDH,BS
As in many other aspects of raising a teenager, lessons are best taught in the home; this includes good oral hygiene. The result will be healthy teeth! Parents who exhibit good oral habits instill in their teens the value of having a healthy mouth. These lessons will help a young adult combat many of the oral problems that teenagers face. From diet and pleasant breath to braces and whitening, it is important to encourage good habits that help to achieve healthy teeth and a healthy life.
Teenagers and Dental Health
According to the American Dental Hygienists Association (ADHA), teenagers face unique challenges that younger children do not. Teenagers commonly struggle with orthodontics, contact sports and diets loaded with sugar and carbohydrates. Less common issues include eating disorders, smoking and mouth piercings. They also exhibit higher rates of tooth decay as a result of these challenges. While some of these conditions are obvious, some can be hidden from the parents or guardians and can seriously compromise healthy teeth.
Orthodontics or braces are used to align the bite of a developing teenager. The brackets, wires and elastics can be obstacles to optimal oral hygiene. Your teen needs to be properly instructed by a dental professional in the best methods to effectively remove plaque and food debris. Once instructed, parents need to remind and reinforce these behaviors. They include:
- Proper brushing and flossing.
- Avoidance of restricted foods and drinks.
- Daily topical fluoride use.
- Regular oral hygiene visits.
If your teen is involved in a contact sport, mouthguards should be used to protect the teeth, jaw and head from impact. They are available in many forms, and some can be custom-made for a better fit. The guard should be worn at all times while playing.
Teenagers and Nutrition
Diets high in sugar and carbohydrates combined with the potential for poor oral hygiene in teens can lead to an increase in cavities. Parents need to limit the intake of sweets and provide healthy dietary alternatives. Sweetened beverages, especially soda, can damage the teeth and interfere with proper calcium absorption. Again, reinforcement of good oral hygiene habits are as critical as regular dental office visits.
Eating disorders include anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. While teens tend to keep these problems hidden from their parents with considerable success, a trained dental professional can recognize signs in the mouth that compromise healthy teeth and soft tissues. These professionals can detect some of the telltale signs including teeth erosion, dry mouth, tooth decay, mouth trauma, enlarged salivary glands and sensitive teeth. Parents who take their teenagers for regular visits to their dentist are utilizing an important tool not only for a healthy mouth, but also for a healthy body.
Teenagers and Oral Health Factors
Discouraging smoking and use of other tobacco products is imperative to a teenager's health and teeth. Parents should maintain a tobacco-free home and have discussions with their teen about the importance of not smoking. Dental effects of smoking include:
- Stained teeth.
- Canker sores.
- Bad breath.
- Altered taste buds.
- Oral cancer.
- Bone and tooth loss from periodontal disease.
Teenagers who smoke often pick it up socially and believe that they will not be a lifelong smoker. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking just a half a pack of cigarettes a day can increase the chance of developing periodontal disease threefold. Chewing tobacco can also cause serious mouth problems. Use of smokeless tobacco can cause tooth decay, gum recession and white patches in the mouth that may develop into oral cancer.
Another concern that can compromise healthy teeth is mouth piercings. If your teen is considering "mouth art," they should visit their dentist or dental hygienist before having the procedure done. They can learn about the potential risks of these procedures and how to avoid them. Ideally, discouraging mouth piercings is recommended because of the risk of infection, damage to teeth and allergic reactions. If an oral piercing has been performed, they should be removed and cleaned regularly to avoid infection.
Teenagers who take care of their mouth will enjoy healthy teeth as an adult. Parents play a key role in prevention by setting good examples, discussing how teens can avoid dental problems and making sure their child gets regular dental care. Proper oral hygiene, appropriate diet and good habits will help your teen attain a lifetime of healthy smiles.
Learn more about oral hygiene and your teenager in the Colgate Oral Care resources.