Teens and Dental Health: 8 Challenges and Changes to Overcome
Your child’s adolescent years are a wild and exciting time filled with many changes – from starting high school and going through puberty, to gaining more freedom and realizing independence. What many parents don’t realize, though, is all these big changes also affect conditions in the mouth and can lead to dental health issues for years to come.
In today’s blog post, we’ll review 8 of the most serious dental concerns for teenagers and what you can do to encourage healthy habits.
Help your teen avoid serious dental problems. Schedule regular preventive care.
1. Increased hormones lead to gingivitis
Gingivitis is a mild form of gum disease (periodontal disease) which causes irritation, redness, swelling, and bleeding of the gums. This might sound harmless enough, but left untreated, this disease can lead to bigger problems like bone loss, tooth loss, and other health issues like stroke or heart attack in adulthood.
Many people believe gingivitis is a disease only affecting older adults, but this is not true. In fact, there’s a higher prevalence of gingivitis among teens than in young children or adults. This is believed to be caused (at least in part) by the sudden hormonal changes happening during puberty and is especially prevalent in teenage girls.
During puberty, a spike in progesterone and estrogen levels can cause a change in blood flow to the gums. As a result, your daughter’s gums may become especially sensitive and tender, causing irritation and bleeding during brushing and flossing.
Hormones can also negatively affect the way gum tissue responds to built up plaque, tartar, and food particles, making it particularly important for teenage girls to practice regular brushing and flossing.
2. Diet changes cause cavities
We all remember the days of being a teenager...of being able to eat whatever you wanted without any real concern for the repercussions. This carefree attitude contributes to what is commonly known as the staple teenage diet: carbs and sugar.
A diet high in carbohydrates and sugar leads to an increase in cavities. This is especially true for teens, given their tendency to have poor oral hygiene. To help encourage your child to care for his or her teeth, provide healthy alternatives and do your best to limit the number of sugar-filled foods in your home.
Some of the worst foods for your teen’s teeth include:
- Fruit juice
- Sugary milkshakes and coffee drinks
- Hard or sticky candy
- Dried fruit
Other important diet issues to keep an eye out for are bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating. In addition to putting your teen’s overall health at risk, eating disorders also lead to teeth erosion, dry mouth, tooth decay, sensitive teeth, and more.
An experienced dentist can recognize tooth damage related to an eating disorder. Scheduling regular visits to the dentist office is a great way to protect your teen’s mouth and general health.
3. Wisdom teeth may need to be removed
Wisdom teeth are the last teeth to come in during young adulthood, usually around the ages of 17-21. Sometimes these teeth simply don't have enough room in the mouth and need to be removed to avoid painful crowding, infections, or other dental issues.
Your teen’s dentist will keep an eye on their wisdom teeth as he or she ages, and may recommend they be removed. In teenagers, the wisdom tooth root is still not fully formed, making it much shorter, straighter, and easier to remove. Plus, teens are typically healthy and heal so quickly that this is an excellent time to take care of this standard procedure.
4. Sports participation can cause mouth trauma
If your teen is involved in sports, keep in mind the risk of dental and facial injuries and plan accordingly. For example, if your teen plays football or another high-contact sport, consider a face or mouth guard.
There are sport-specific guards available, so talk to your teen’s dentist about the activities your teen regularly participates in and get a recommendation on what type of protection is needed. Additionally, always opt for a custom-made guard that is age appropriate and perfectly fitted for your child’s mouth and face.
5. Braces may be necessary to correct dental issues
If your teenager has crooked teeth or a bad bite, he or she may benefit from braces. Braces not only straighten teeth, they also improve overall dental health as misaligned teeth can interfere with chewing and increase the chances of cavities and gum disease. Taking care of this dental issue at a young age will set your teen up for a healthy and confident future.
Today, there are many options available to realign teeth – from traditional metal braces, tooth-colored plastic or ceramic braces, and removable clear retainers. Talk to your dentist and get a recommendation for a local orthodontist to find out which direction is best for your teen.
Whatever option you and your teen choose, careful cleaning and flossing is extra important during orthopedic care. Be prepared to monitor your teen’s dental health and encourage regular brushing and flossing.
Dental health is extra important during orthodontic care!
6. Mouth jewelry
Many teenagers are interested in oral jewelry, but don’t ever consider the risks. Lip, tongue, or cheek rings and piercings can lead to infections, swelling, and eventually a blocked airway. In a worst case scenario, an infected oral piercing can lead to hepatitis or endocarditis.
Then there’s the long-term dental damage that can be caused by biting down too hard on a piercing or repeatedly clicking the jewelry against the teeth.
If your teen is interested in mouth jewelry, have him or her first talk to the dentist to understand the risks. You should also ensure the piercing is completed by a professional you trust. Lastly, take your teen in for regular dental checks to make sure the piercing isn’t causing dental issues.
7. Drug use leads to decay
While many people understand that illegal drug use can damage the stomach, heart, and brain, not many think about the effect they have on teeth and gums.
“Meth Mouth,” for example, is a phrase coined for the devastating effects methamphetamine has on oral health. These symptoms include blackened, stained, rotting, and crumbling teeth. Often, the effects on oral health are so severe that teeth cannot be salvaged.
Not every drug has this type of extreme effect on dental health, but even marijuana, a drug now legal in many states, can lead to dry mouth and an increased risk of cavities and gum disease.
Talk to your teen about the dangers of drug use and help them understand how getting involved in this addictive behavior can have serious long-term implications for all areas of their health.
8. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of oral cancer
Nearly all tobacco use begins during youth and young adulthood. With smoking being the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, it’s imperative that you help your teen understand the risks from day one.
Smoking cigarettes not only stains teeth and contributes to gum disease, bone loss, and tooth loss, it also increases the risk of oral cancer as well as cancers in the head and neck. Early detection is key, so if you know your teen is smoking – even if only on occasion – notify a dentist. An oral cancer screening during regular dental checkups will help catch any possible issues.
Schedule regular dental cleanings for your teen
As your children enter into their teenage years, make sure you understand the unique dental health risks they face so you can encourage smart dental habits to keep them heading down a healthy path. Although convincing a teenager to change habits can be challenging, this is definitely one battle well worth the time and effort.
Start by leading by example. Make a point to practice good dental habits, brushing and flossing regularly, and visiting the dentist at least twice a year.
You should also help schedule your teen’s dental checkups. If your teen is old enough to drive, consider scheduling both you and your teen’s appointment on the same day so you can ensure the appointment is met. This also gives you a chance to talk to the dentist about any concerns you may have. Together, you and the dentist can ensure your teen has the best chance at a healthy dental future.
Here at Batchelor Dentistry, we offer dental care services for the entire family. We’re dedicated to helping teens achieve great dental health by building a lasting relationship that goes beyond just “fixing teeth.” Contact us to schedule an appointment for your family today.