Dental health during teen years offers another set of challenges. For most parents, this doesn’t come as a big surprise. A dizzying number of changes strike during these formative years, and parents often experience a few frustrations along the way.
But teens listen more than we realize, and pestering parents can make a tremendous difference in the dental future of these young adults. Oral home care habits tend to slide, sometimes to the point of complete neglect. Increased independence may lead to eating and drinking habits that harm oral and overall health. Don’t underestimate any encouragement given to help your teen avoid the long-term effects of cavities and gum inflammation.
Preventive visits every six months provide us with an opportunity to coach your teen and reinforce the efforts you’re making with them. Sometimes the rapport we establish in a professional, yet friendly, setting proves especially effective. Plus we can share problems with them through visual aids while reinforcing any positive efforts they’re making.
Tips for home efforts that protect your teen’s dental health:
- Limit sodas and energy drinks. Sugary carbonated drinks are the number one cause of tooth decay in adolescents. Many 20 ounce bottles of soda contain 18 teaspoons of sugar in an extremely acidic liquid. The combination can be devastating for teeth.
- Encourage brushing before bedtime. Night hours can be especially harmful as the mouth dries out and bacterial plaque flourishes.
- Explain the dangers of sharing toothbrushes. Teens love to share everything, even toothbrushes. The bacteria that cause gum disease and cavities can easily transfer from one person to the next through this method.
- Slip in dental floss or a toothpick with their lunch or backpack.
It’s easy to ignore, but a little bit of tooth decay or gum disease always leads to a little bit more. The outcome of these untreated problems inevitably becomes pain, emergency treatment, and tooth loss. So why does this happen?
It’s an infection.
Millions of bacteria swarm our mouths, many of them harmless and even beneficial. But a few bad characters wreak havoc on the hard and soft tissues of the mouth in many people. Like all living creatures, they need an energy source. Sugars are their snack of choice, and they use simple carbohydrates from our diet to manufacture energy.
Like all living creatures making energy, they also produce waste. These acidic wastes deposited on the teeth erode the hard enamel surfaces and form holes, known as cavities.
Some bacteria produce a toxic waste that causes bleeding gums and destruction of the bone around the teeth. In fact, this is the leading reason people lose their teeth and end up with dentures. It’s all part of an infection.
Most infections can be treated with antibiotics, but mouth bacteria require a different approach. Regular checkups help us identify new cavities, and periodic cleanings remove mineralized deposits that harbor millions of harmful bacteria. Fluoride varnishes harden tooth surfaces, and high-risk patients benefit from customized approaches with our team.
The complex interaction of infection and inflammation extends beyond the gums and mouth. In fact, research continues to uncover the many ways that problems in our mouths can reach into critical areas of our bodies. For example, mouth bacteria penetrate through bleeding gums and enter the bloodstream. Like a river, blood flow carries the bacteria to the small vessels of the heart and brain. Here they can damage the intricate vessel lining, leading to blockage of the vessel. Heart attack or stroke results..all because of bleeding gums.
The same process deposits mouth bacteria and their toxins in other areas of our bodies and appears related to arthritis, diabetes, and some cancers. In the last few years, we’ve learned that a healthy mouth can affect our overall health in many ways.
A few tips for maintaining a healthy mouth:
- Brush and floss twice a day: Consistent daily habits remove sticky, bacterial plaque that starts the cascading events that lead to decay, gum disease, and other health problems. If you don’t like to floss, consider toothpicks, brushes or the magic of a Waterpik.
- Brush for at least two minutes each time: It sounds like a long time, but it makes a difference. Consider an electric toothbrush with a built-in timer, or setting a timer on your phone.
- Rinse your toothbrush thoroughly: Bacteria linger on your toothbrush, finding their way back into the mouth at the next use.
- Keep sugary drinks, starchy foods, and desserts to a minimum: Foods high in starch and sugar provide fuel to bacteria. Despite diligent brushing and flossing, sugary and starchy foods serve as catalysts for decay. Be moderate, and avoid snacking between meals.
- Drink sugary liquids through a straw: A straw helps keep sugar from bathing the teeth directly before swallowing.
- Drink water after eating a meal: Swishing with water helps clean larger deposits of food from your teeth. Plus, we all could use a little more hydration!
- Get cavities treated immediately: Cavities rarely hurt until they reach a critical stage. And don’t forget: a little bit of tooth decay eventually becomes a little bit more.
- See a dentist every six months: The risk of critical dental problems diminishes significantly if you’re visiting us twice a year. Patients that fit preventive dentistry into their budget typically enjoy fewer dental expenditures over time than those who wait for emergencies to develop.