According to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dental decay is the most common chronic disease in young people from the ages of 5 – 17. A younger child tends to get more time and assistance in their hygiene routines, but most teenagers are in charge (and on their own) when it comes to dental care. With this freedom can come the choice to neglect proper oral hygiene. It is important that teenagers maintain a healthy dental routine, and visit their dentist every six months for a check-up.
There are several factors that put teenagers more at risk for dental decay. A young child who has their primary set of teeth will have larger spaces between the teeth, making it easier to clean between. As the permanent teeth come in, and the spaces begin to disappear, it becomes hard to clean between the teeth and flossing becomes a necessity. Most children will have their full set of teeth around 12 or 13 years of age, right around the age parents will allow the children increased freedom when it comes to brushing. However, this is the time when hygiene needs change drastically in all areas, including the mouth. Often, teenagers will not understand the importance of flossing between these teeth, and that can lead to problems.
Not only do many children not understand the importance of good oral hygiene, but they are also being given far greater amounts of freedom. A teenager may increase consumption of sugary drinks like soda, or chew gum. They may also eat sugary snacks and cereals because they are quick, without thinking about the consequences these dietary choices can bring. If they do not take care to brush and floss their teeth regularly, then this food can become trapped between the teeth and lead to plaque. Plaque build up can cause cavities, gum irritation, and gum diseases such as gingivitis.
The teenage years also bring about many physical changes, and often teenagers require braces. Braces make teeth especially hard to clean and require extra care and time that is often not received. Good oral hygiene is especially important when wearing braces because food can get trapped in the spaces between the wires and brackets, causing decay and discolouration. Food that is left behind can also react with bacteria in the mouth leaving small, permanent light spots on the teeth. As dentists, we recommend brushing (at least) after every meal and using a floss threader to floss between your teeth at least once a day regardless of whether you have braces or not.
There are a few simple solutions to help ensure a cavity free mouth for a teenager. Parents can begin by keeping healthy snacks on hand, and limiting sugar. However, the best decision a parent can make to improve a teenager’s oral health is leading by example. Be sure to floss every day, and brush at least twice a day. Eat healthy, making smart choices even if you’re in a hurry, and eliminate soft drinks wherever possible. It is also important for a teenager to visit the dentist twice a year. When your teen visits us in the office, we’re able to help improve brushing and flossing techniques by showing the correct way to do it.
It’s also important for both you and your dentist to discuss the importance of oral hygiene, and the negative affects not practising it can have on your overall health. Many parents forget that improper oral hygiene can also impact a teenager’s self-esteem. Bacteria and food particles in the mouth can lead to bad breath and yellowing of the teeth. However, if you follow the suggestions we’ve given you here, your teen can almost certainly maintain a healthy mouth.