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Oral Health Buzz

Oral Health in Children as They Become Teenagers

Yolanda Eddis

There are several concerns regarding oral health in children as they transition into and continue through their teenage years. They sometimes involve activities at home, school, sports and social events and can have a negative impact on their oral health. Therefore, it is important for parents to become aware of dental concerns in the oral health of teens. In addition to misbehaving at social activities, teens often attempt to avoid preventive care and place a low priority on maintaining good daily oral hygiene.

Contributing Factors

Dietary Habits

Some teens have poor dietary habits that contribute to tooth decay, formally known as dental caries. Frequent snacking on refined carbohydrates and acid-containing beverages combined with cavity-causing bacterial plaque contributes to tooth decay, which is the most common childhood disease among youth 6 to 19 years of age. Tooth decay is four times more common than asthma in teenagers 14 to 17 years of age. Current research indicates that the rate of tooth decay is highest among teens, although the rate of tooth decay has declined (AAPD, 2010). Teens that use a toothbrush, fluoride-containing toothpaste and dental floss after meals can reduce the risk of developing tooth decay. Fluoride can be obtained through optimally fluoridated water, fluoridated toothpaste, professional application and home-applied prescription strength toothpaste and rinses. Patient dental counseling can be provided to educate teens on proper brushing techniques, flossing and foods that are more nutritious for dental health.

Gingivitis

There is a higher prevalence of gingivitis among teens than prepubertal children or adults, which may be caused by an increase in sex hormones during puberty. Generally, the body responds to bacterial plaque surrounding the teeth with an inflammatory response. The gum tissues often become red, inflamed and bloody (when irritated). Gingivitis is reversible with proper brushing, flossing and the use of an antimicrobial mouth rinse.

Traumatic Injuries

Injuries that can occur at sporting activities can contribute to dental and facial injuries. These injuries are primarily caused by falls, collisions and contact with hard surfaces. Dental injuries can be significantly reduced through the use of mouth guards and face guards, depending on the sport. Dentists can prepare age-appropriate, sport-specific protective equipment, such as a properly fitted mouth guard, to be worn during sporting activities.

Oral Piercing

Unfavorable oral and systemic (affecting the entire body) outcomes are linked to piercing and tongue splitting. Oral piercing affects the tongue, lips, cheeks, uvula and a combination of tissues in and surrounding the mouth. Oral health problems associated with oral jewelry include swallowed/aspirated jewelry, speech impairment, fractured teeth, gingival recession and embedded jewels. Dental professionals can provide guidance about the hazards and potential complications of oral piercing to help teens make safe choices.

Smoking and Alcohol

88 percent of youths take up cigarette smoking by the age of 18; 99 percent start smoking by the age of 26 (ADA, 2012). Smoking and other forms of tobacco use, such as smokeless tobacco, are usually associated with oral cancer and cancers of the head and neck (Daniel et al, 2008). There is an increased chance of developing cancer of the mouth with tobacco usage, excessive consumption of alcohol and overexposure to the sun. Unfavorable dental outcomes are linked to smokeless tobacco, such as gingival recession (gum moving away from the tooth), periodontal disease and bone loss. Unsightly brown stains and halitosis (bad breath) are also associated with tobacco use. Oral cancer examinations conducted by dental professionals can reduce the risk of oral cancer.

Tooth Whitening and Stain Removal

Many teens desire to improve the aesthetics of their teeth by using tooth-whitening and stain-removal products. Some patients experience sensitivity as a result of the overuse of whitening products. Products that are used for whitening include bleaching agents (gels or whitening strips), microabrasion, replacement of esthetic restorations and a combination of treatment options (AAPD, 2010). Dentists are best qualified to recommend a method of bleaching or whitening the teeth.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are most common among teenage girls; however, incidence is rising among teenage boys. The eating disorders that are most common are bulimia, anorexia nervosa and binge eating. Eating disorders can damage the teeth and mouth, affecting the way the teeth fit together and causing dry mouth, dental erosion, redness of the pharynx (throat) and bruising of the palate. Dental professionals can provide a referral for teens who need to begin the process of recovery from eating disorders.

Teeth Crowding

Crowded or crooked teeth are sometimes problems for teens. When teeth are misaligned (upper and lower jaw may not meet properly), crowded, lost or missing they make it difficult for teens to keep clean. Other problems can occur, such as gum disease, complications with speech and chewing, tooth decay, abnormal wear of tooth enamel and jaw problems. Braces or orthodontic appliances can be worn to straighten teeth. An evaluation by a dentist or orthodontist who specializes in preventing, detecting and treating dental irregularities can determine the best treatment for teens.

When to See a Dentist

Some dental concerns may not be obvious to teenagers; therefore, it is important that teens or their parents schedule routine dental visits. In this way, teens will undergo a complete examination to detect and diagnose any unknown dental concerns.

Learn more about oral health in children and teenagers from the Colgate Oral Health resources.

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