Dental decay is the most common chronic disease in young people between the ages of 5 and 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while younger children typically attend dental appointments with their parents, teens have more control over their free time and may not choose to visit the dentist for regular checkups.
As a result, many teenagers don’t get the dental care they need or the proper education to make smart decisions about their oral hygiene habits. The Academy of General Dentistry offers the following teeth tips for teens and their parents:
- Limit soda drinking.Teens are drinking more soft drinks, energy drinks, Gatorade and sweetened teas than ever, both in school and at home. Sweetened drink consumption among this age group has steadily increased in recent years. Sugar in sweetened sodas can cause cavities, and acidic flavor additives (found in both unsweetened and sweetened sodas) can also erode and damage tooth enamel.
- Play it safe.Contact sports can cause oral injuries, but teens can prevent injuries by wearing a mouth guard while playing sports. More than 200,000 injuries to the mouth and jaw occur each year, and dentists regularly recommend the use of mouth guards in a variety of sports activities. Whether a mouth guard is custom-fitted by a dentist or bought at a store, teens should keep it clean by rinsing it often and storing it in a ventilated container.
- Avoid oral piercings.Tongue piercing remains a trend despite the dangers to oral health. People with tongue piercings chip their teeth on the jewelry while eating, sleeping, talking and chewing. The fracture can be confined to tooth enamel and require a filling, or it may go deeper, which can lead to a root canal or tooth extraction.
Infections are also common with oral piercings. The tongue can swell after being punctured, and in some cases can become infected and swell to such a degree that it interferes with breathing. Unclean piercing equipment can cause other infections, such as blood-borne hepatitis.
- Make time for healthy habits.Teens eat quick meals in the form of “nutrition” bars and fast food to stay alert and on schedule between school, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. However, these habits can permanently damage oral and overall health. Teens should have access to healthy snacks such as apples and carrot sticks and low-fat cheese. Keeping a travel-size toothbrush in a locker or backpack can help teens keep up good teeth-cleaning habits by brushing after meals and snacks.
Chewing sugarless gum with xylitol (a natural sweetener) after meals or snacks can also help cleanse the mouth. Drinking water throughout the day can help cleanse the teeth of excess bacteria and food debris.
Just like adults, teens should visit their dentist at least twice a year. Regular dental visits and cleanings not only help keep teeth bright and shiny (a boost to any teen’s self-esteem), they can also help catch minor problems before they become worse.