Teens and Dentistry
Maintaining healthy teeth and gums is important for overall health at any age, the teenage years being no exception. Brushing, flossing, maintaining a healthy diet and visiting your dentist on a regular basis help ensure a healthy and attractive smile. At a time when you’re faced with making choices about many aspects of your life, it’s important to consider the impact that certain behaviors and decisions – both positive and negative – can have on your oral health and the appearance of your smile for years to come.
The number of teenagers who consume soda today has nearly doubled from what it was several years ago. Sodas and other carbonated beverages typically contain an excessive amount of sugars and acidic flavorings that erode tooth enamel, which can ultimately lead to tooth decay.
Sipping soda through a straw can reduce the contact these beverages have with your teeth, essentially minimizing the damage. In addition, drinking water after soda helps to rinse your mouth and reduce your risk of cavities. To help keep your teeth strong for your lifetime, limit your intake of carbonated beverages.
If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do, it’s time to quit.
Smoking and/or chewing tobacco stains your teeth, contributes to bad breath, and increases your risk of developing periodontal disease (gum disease) and oral cancer. If you use tobacco products, be honest about it with your dentist or hygienist. Be sure to discuss any problems you may be experiencing with your mouth, too.
Bulimia – binge eating followed by vomiting, and anorexia – a fear of gaining weight that leads to not eating, and/or eating very little and then vomiting, are serious eating disorders. In addition to the associated risk of health complications, these disorders also damage the appearance of the teeth by eroding the enamel in a visible “tell-tale” way.
Dentists can usually identify eating disorders based on the effects, and can recommend psychological counseling or offer a referral to a physician. Although dentists can restore teeth damaged by the acid erosion caused by the constant purging using dental crowns, composite fillings and other treatments, they cannot treat the eating disorder.
If you or someone you know is suffering with an eating disorder, call your physician or dentist for help.
If you’re tempted to pierce your lip, cheek or tongue, be advised that such piercings come with significant risks. Oral piercings put you at risk for chipping your teeth while eating, sleeping, chewing and talking. The damage caused by tongue piercings can lead to tooth fractures that may ultimately need fillings, crowns or even root canals; swelling that possibly could restrict your breathing; and painful infections, difficult-to-control bleeding, blood poisoning and blood clots.
Academic Stress & Bruxism
It’s not uncommon for teenagers to occasionally pull an “all-nighter” to cram for that big exam or begin to “stress out” about being accepted to the college of their choice. Unfortunately, that stress could translate into dental damage if it leads to the unknowing grinding of teeth. Tooth grinding (bruxism) wears down the teeth and also could lead to tempromandibular disorder (TMJ), a painful condition that makes it difficult to open and close the mouth.
If you’ve noticed that your jaw is sore in the morning, you hear a clicking sound when opening or closing your mouth and your teeth are sensitive, you could be grinding your teeth at night. Make an appointment to see your dentist, who will likely fit you with a night guard to wear to protect your teeth and help relieve your symptoms.
During the teen years, socializing, fitting-in and looking good are important for building self-esteem. Maintaining a healthy and pleasing smile without damaged or missing teeth is part of the equation.
If sports are part of your life, then a mouth guard should be, too. Mouth guards will help protect against chipped or broken teeth, root and bone damage, and tooth loss. Whenever there’s a chance you’ll be in contact with other players or hard surfaces, wearing a mouth guard makes sense. If you don’t have one, see your dentist to be fitted for a custom and durable mouth guard.
Eating Healthy Foods
Today’s busy teenagers often fortify their nutritional needs with on-the-go, non-nutritional and easy in-between snacks. Over time, sugar-filled foods can permanently damage your teeth, not to mention increase your risk for other health problems. A healthy and balanced diet centered on moderation and variety is important for good oral health.
When it’s time for meals or eating throughout the day, choose foods from each of the five major food groups (breads, cereals and other grain products; fruits; vegetables; meat, poultry, fish and beans; and milk and dairy products). If you do need to snack or grab foods on the run, reach for healthy foods low in sugar and that do not stick to your teeth. Good choices include cheese, raw vegetables, nuts, plain yogurt or a piece of fruit.
Although there are different approaches to whitening teeth, and many at-home whitening kits are available at drugstores or day spas, teenagers are advised to see their dentist before trying any whitening products. Without proper instruction, serious damage can occur to the teeth if whitening products are used incorrectly or inappropriately.
Your dentist is familiar with your mouth and the best tooth whitening options for you. Based on this knowledge, your dentist can supervise your tooth whitening to ensure that you achieve the results you’re hoping for. What’s more, keep in mind that regular and thorough cleanings from your dental hygienist will help remove stains on your teeth. Also, whitening toothpastes can be effective at removing surface stains from the teeth.
Fixing Crooked Teeth
Crooked, misaligned and crowded teeth are common problems among children and adolescents, leading them to be self-conscious when they speak, laugh and smile. Orthodontics is necessary to correct such problems in order to ensure proper oral health and function of the teeth in the future
Fortunately, today’s braces – which are more comfortable, available in various colors, and able to be placed on the lingual (back side) of teeth – provide orthodontists with more treatment options. What’s more, in certain cases, the use of invisible and removable clear plastic aligners such as Invisalign Teen that gradually move the teeth might be an option for those teenagers even more self-conscious about being seen with braces.