Good oral health is a central element of overall health. For your teen to feel and look their best, they need a strong foundation in dental health knowledge and a toolkit of good habits. As the parent of a teenager, you already know it’s not always easy getting them to take things seriously. When it comes to dental health, a teen may believe that their regular checkups and cleanings are enough to keep their mouth healthy and that they don’t need to put much thought or care into their daily oral hygiene routine. Understanding the impact of oral health and the unique issues that affect teens is the first step to encouraging good dental health.
The Importance of Good Oral Hygiene in TeenagersGood oral hygiene is important for everyone, but teenagers are in a critical stage of development where dental problems can lead to lifelong health issues as well as unpleasant temporary symptoms. For instance, bad breath is an embarrassing inconvenience that many teens deal with at one point or another. It can lead to awkward interactions and some social anxiety, but it may also be a symptom of a deeper issue. Bad breath can mask chronic, systemic illnesses like metabolic disorders. It can also be a symptom of infections in the mouth, like gum disease, or of tooth decay. In a teen who brushes and flosses regularly, bad breath would be an instant red flag. In a teen with poor oral hygiene, these issues may just be attributed to a dirty mouth rather than the underlying cause, making it much more difficult to spot the root problem. Cavities, of course, are a major dental health concern. The better your teen’s oral hygiene, the less their chance of developing cavities and tooth decay. Remember that teens already have their adult teeth, so damage from cavities and decay will stay with them throughout their life. Good oral hygiene is the best preventive course of action to ensure a teenager keeps their smile sparkling for the long run. The formation of healthy habits like brushing twice a day and flossing helps frame good health as a matter of routine.
Unique Dental Health Issues in TeenagersTeens face a number of unique circumstances that can make it more challenging to maintain good oral health. Here are five of the most common hurdles your teen might face when attempting to keep their mouth healthy.
1. BracesAdolescence is the most common time for people to get braces. Orthodontic intervention may be necessary for health reasons like crowded teeth making plaque buildup dangerous, or solely for cosmetic reasons. Either way, teens have a steep learning curve when it comes to their braces. One of the more challenging issues with braces is re-learning how to brush their teeth. The process is now more time-consuming and complex than before, which can frustrate teens. Brushing teeth with braces includes taking off elastics and working the toothbrush around the pins and wires. If a teen doesn’t spend enough time or focus well enough on removing the debris and plaque on braces, they can end up with bad breath and potential tooth decay.
2. Sugar IntakeMany teens have a sweet tooth that leads them to enjoy indulging in sugary snacks and beverages. Sugar doesn’t cause direct harm by coming in contact with teeth, but it acts as an enabler for bacteria and acids. Sugar is a preferred source of energy for oral bacteria. In the process of digesting the sugars, the bacteria produce enamel-destroying acids. Once the enamel wears away enough, a cavity forms. Keeping sugar intake low is one excellent step toward preserving good dental health for anyone. Teens with braces will find that the reduced plaque buildup makes it easier to keep their teeth clean consistently.
3. Wisdom TeethWisdom teeth are the last adult teeth your teen will grow. Some kids don’t get their wisdom teeth until they are young adults, but many adolescents start getting them much earlier. The development of wisdom teeth is different in everyone, and some have more problems with these teeth than others. For example, a teen may find that their newly-growing wisdom teeth are interfering with braces. If left to grow in crooked, wisdom teeth crowd the mouth and make it near impossible to brush behind the second molars. Your child’s dentist will usually be able to use x-rays to determine whether incoming wisdom teeth are going to have a negative impact on their oral health. Wisdom teeth removal is a common procedure that can make oral hygiene much easier.
4. PiercingsTeenage dental problems are not made easier by oral piercings. Although piercing of the tongue and lip may look cool from a teen’s point of view, dentists know that these types of body jewelry come with serious risks attached. Having holes in the mouth creates a breeding ground for bacteria that requires extra care in cleaning. The consequences of caring improperly for an oral piercing include bacterial infection. If your teen has an oral piercing, extra attention must be paid to keeping the whole mouth clean. If they want to get one in the future, communicating the risks and responsibility is imperative.
5. SmokingThe rate of cigarette smoking among youth aged 15 to 19 years was found to be eight percent in the most recent Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey (CTADS) in 2017. About 10 percent of boys reported current smoking compared to six percent of girls. Smoking can even have a significant negative impact on oral health. In addition to the very real risk of nicotine addiction, teens who smoke run the risk of:
- Damaged sense of smell
- Chronic bad breath
- Teeth staining
- Gumline recession
- Tartar and plaque accumulation
- Increased sensitivity to heat and cold
How to Encourage Teens to Maintain Proper Dental HealthAs a parent, the stakes of good oral hygiene for your child are clear. How do you get the point across to them and help them develop the habits they need to maintain excellent dental health? Here are six dental health tips for teens.
1. Appeal to Their EgoA common point of frustration for parents of teenagers is their endless quest to maximize their cool factor. Oftentimes, this takes the form of preening in front of the mirror for longer than seems strictly necessary. Luckily, this penchant for focusing on looks can help you out when it comes to promoting oral hygiene. Communicate with your teen about the consequences of failing to keep up their oral hygiene. The thought of a yellowing smile and tooth decay may be enough to motivate them into better maintenance. On the other hand, make sure you acknowledge when you notice your child has been particularly diligent in their routine. A compliment from a parent may not carry as much clout as one from peers, but it can remind your teen what they’re working for.
2. Let Them Choose Dental ProductsTeenagers do not like to be told what to do, so anything you can do to give them agency in caring for their teeth will help. Have them pick out their own toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and mouthwash next time you go shopping. When your child feels more in control of the products available to them, they’ll be more likely to use those products with pride. However, it’s important to make sure you’re monitoring those choices as not all dental products are of equal efficacy. One way to confirm that a product does what it says is to look for the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) Seal. The CDA Seal Program provides independent validation of oral health benefit claims listed by the manufacturer. As long as the seal is present, you can rest assured that the product has been reviewed and validated.
3. Ensure They Know How to BrushDespite what your teen might think, brushing your teeth does require some attention to technique. It’s not enough to jam a toothbrush into their mouth and drag it around for a few seconds. Make sure your teen knows these rules of proper tooth brushing:
- Angle the brush 45 degrees to the teeth.
- Don’t scrub — use a gentle massaging motion both circular and up and down.
- Reach every surface of every tooth.
- Switch between brushing patterns to minimize missed areas.
4. Encourage the Use of TimersOne common problem among teens is the length of time they spend brushing. In the morning, when they’re roused out of bed tired and groggy, it seems like they’ll do anything to snag even one minute more of sleep — including skimping on the recommended two minutes of brushing. It’s also hard to gauge time while getting ready for a full day of school and activities, so the use of a timer is incredibly helpful whether it’s a miniature hourglass, a stopwatch or a phone app.
5. Limit Candy and PopYou don’t have too much control over what your teen consumes when they’re out and about or at a friend’s house, and a can of pop or handful of candy won’t ruin their dental health when consumed in mindful moderation. At home, however, you have the power to set a good example when it comes to diet and nutrition. Cut down on your stock and consumption of sugary snacks and beverages and replace them with healthier options. No one likes giving up their favourite indulgences, though. That’s why it’s important to explain your reasons for changing up your shopping lists. It’s a good idea to make changes in phases rather than suddenly toss out all the sweet snacks and never buy them again. Once you’ve established the dangers that too much sugar presents, consider asking your teen what they think you should phase out first. Again, extending some agency is often the best way to get teenagers on board with necessary changes.
6. Make Room for RoutineBeing a parent means embracing an often hectic environment while trying to get everything done. While it may take some serious organizational skills, incorporating good oral hygiene into your family’s daily routine is one of the best things you can do to encourage consistent and effective oral hygiene habits. When crunch time comes in the morning and the clock is running down, tooth brushing is often the first thing to be sacrificed. If at all possible, alter your morning routine so that tooth brushing becomes more of a priority.
Dental Health Services at Gateway Dentistry GroupAt Gateway Dentistry Group in Grande Prairie, we offer a robust array of dental services for all ages. The following are just some of the services we provide for teens to keep their teeth healthy:
- Wisdom teeth extraction: Our dentists can evaluate the development of your teen’s last set of teeth and provide wisdom teeth extraction if the new teeth are causing pain or other issues.
- Teeth whitening: If smoking or other bad habits have led to discolouration, our teeth whitening can help your teen regain a bright, confident smile.
- Fillings and sealants: When a cavity appears, fillings and sealants are the best way to protect teeth from further damage. We offer both white composite fillings and silver amalgams.
- Sedation dentistry: Some teens find a trip to the dentist anxiety-inducing, and their oral health suffers for it. We offer multiple types of dental sedation suitable for kids and teens to make procedures less intimidating.
- Invisalign® clear aligners: If your teen is worried about crooked teeth but doesn’t want to deal with the high maintenance requirements of braces, we may be able to help with clear plastic aligners.