Oral Health Through Teen Years

As a dental clinician, every time a parent expresses despair towards their teen's apparent disengagement from what would normally be considered ‘appropriate personal hygiene practices’, I smile because I’ve been there too! It was the same for many of my friends and relatives. It is a real thing! All the health and wellness information that was received from ‘Healthy Harold’, teachers and health professionals over the years seems to fly out the window during the teen years, and they can drop the ball in the oral health care department as well. The effects are usually a temporary hiccup… lasting only a few years! However, here are some things that you (and your teen) might encounter, and from a dental perspective, might be handy to know…

The bacteria contributing to the dental decay do not take a holiday during this period, and hormonal changes can alter the response to the bacterial presence. This can quickly increase gum inflammation and tooth demineralisation if the bacteria is not managed accordingly, with regular correct brush and flossing techniques the best option.

Diet will change. Your home-cooked and thoughtfully prepared meals will be supplemented with junk food, and sometimes at a mind-blowing frequency! This is especially true if teens have a part-time job and enjoy the newfound freedom to make ‘independent financial decisions’. Usually high in sugar and carbohydrates these food/drink choices contribute to an acidic oral environment (plaque acids) and increased susceptibility to dental decay.

Many teens adopt an ‘invincible’ mindset (blame the developing frontal lobe of the brain for this) and play cat and mouse with oral care routines. Normal brushing and flossing routines become optional! This perceived invincibility can also result in teens considering the wearing of a mouthguard an ‘option’, risking dental sporting injuries which can have expensive and lifelong consequences.

Social contacts and friend groups often change during the adolescent period. Teens may engage in activities which can lead to a wide range of compromised health decisions. (Blame the frontal lobe again!) Often these have significant oral wellness considerations in the future. It is advised that all teens are fully immunised for Hep B and HPV virus. Sadly, oral cancers in young adults who are otherwise healthy is rising across the world, and is considered a socially communicative disease by many who are working in this field. It is quite common for a teen’s selfesteem to take a hit, and during this time, a general lack of self-care is noted.

It is not uncommon for a teen to be recommended more frequent preventive dental visits during this period so that the teeth and gums can be monitored and appropriately cared for.

The growth and development of teeth and jaw are nearing completion during the adolescent years - especially in males. The recommendation for orthodontic referrals to monitor and treat orthodontic concerns are often recognised during this time.

Teenagers need sleep! Restful, brain developing, memory consolidating, good quality sleep for optimal school performance, and to maintain a pleasant disposition! Interruptions to the quality or amount of sleep are extremely detrimental in the short and long term. We call this ‘sleep hygiene’. Nasal breathing is paramount to restful sleep, and dental clinicians or orofacial myologists trained to recognise compromised breathing patterns or sleep disturbances can help with referrals or treatment if there are concerns in this area.

For this reason, despite your teen's busy schedule, regular dental examinations are recommended during the adolescent years. Regular monitoring, early intervention and preventive measures are incredibly important in this age group. Dental clinicians understand the adolescent period as being ‘high risk’ and can work with you and your family to manage your teen's individual oral health concerns for better health outcomes in the future. If you are treading these wonderful waters, then we are with you all the way!

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