Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Oral Care for Adolescents

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Good nutrition and oral hygiene are particularly important for teens, and important for healthy smiles and gums. Parents are likely to not be paying as much attention as they did when their kids were younger, and teens, may be slacking off! The evidence is that three-fourths of 13-17 year-olds have gums that bleed.

Teens have the highest number of cavities and pubertal changes seem to be associated with more inflammation of the gums, which requires better than average flossing and brushing, in addition to two dental cleanings a year. Other specific teen-related issues include sports that require mouthguards, oral piercings, eating disorders, soda consumption, and smoking.

Mouthguards
All contact sports should require a mouthguard, which is designed to absorb energy during an impact, decreasing the likelihood of trauma to the mouth. There are three types of mouthguards: 1) stock, 2) boil-and-bite, and 3) custom-made. Stock mouthguards come in different sizes, but may not fit well, the boil-and-bite are more comfortable, and of course, custom-made are the best, and most expensive.

Piercings
Oral piercings are associated with many oral complications if the piercing studio is not sanitary, or the jewelry is not surgical grade stainless steel. Infection and allergic reactions are the most common and serious complications. Piercings that are not in the right place, and the habit of "playing" with the jewelry also can lead to erosion of the teeth and gums. The best way to prevent complications is to clean the jewelry after each meal to avoid bacteria building up.

Eating Disorders
Eating disorders cause tooth enamel erosion, cavities, enlargement of the saliva glands, sensitive teeth, fungal or bacterial infections on the outside of the mouth, and dry mouth.

Smoking
Although many teens believe that "social" smoking will not hurt their health, they are wrong. Bad breath, stained teeth, loss of taste and smell, canker sores, oral cancer and gum disease are just a sample of the oral complications associated with smoking. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even smokers who smoke less than a half of a pack a day are three times more likely than nonsmokers to develop periodontal disease.

Soda Consumption
Soda contains phosphoric acid, which blocks the absorption of calcium, and large amounts of sugar, causing cavities and no nutritional value. Using a straw to drink soda, rinsing your mouth after drinking them, and just limiting the amount of soda can help minimize the negative effects of drinking it.

Photo credit: I'm Fantastic
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.

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