Teenagers are susceptible to a number of oral conditions which are not unique to teenagers, but which frequently occur for the first time during the teenage years.
Common oral conditions that occur in teenagers include decay, gingivitis, troublesome wisdom teeth, cold sores and crowded teeth. Teenagers are susceptible to these conditions for a number of reasons. Both decay and gingivitis are related to poor oral hygiene. Many teenagers have a poor level of oral hygiene. There are many reasons for this which include; parental independence and a sense of rebellion, Dental Care being seen as a low priority and busy lifestyles. Many teenagers have money to spend independently on such things as snacks after school which may be damaging to the teeth. Teenagers getting home late are sometimes too tired to bother with cleaning teeth.
Advertising is another factor which promotes Teenage Dental Care problems. Foods which are advertised as being 'healthy' are often very damaging to teeth. Sports drinks are one example. These drinks and carbonated soft drinks are usually acidic and high in sugar which promotes tooth decay. Chocolate bars, sweets, sport drinks and most processed, sugary foods can also be harmful to teeth.
The hormonal changes of puberty can often exaggerate the appearance of gingivitis. A previously minor case of gingivitis may begin to show spontaneous bleeding of the gums, even with no change in the level of oral hygiene.
Plaque causes decay and gingivitis. Regular removal of plaque is a simple, quick and easy way of preventing these problems. A toothbrush with a small head and soft bristles will more than adequately clean without causing damage to the teeth or gums. Always make sure the teeth are brushed both inside and out to ensure thorough cleaning.
HOW TO BRUSH Hold the brush with the bristles at an angle approximately 45 degrees to the teeth and gums and move the brush with a small circular action (concentrating on one tooth at a time). When a circular motion is too difficult to manage try using a small horizontal scrubbing action. Use firm pressure but never press too hard. It is important to clean both the teeth AND the gum next to the teeth.
COLD SORES Cold sores are small painful ulcers that frequently occur on the lips and under the nose. Cold sores are caused by the herpes simplex virus. The virus particle is shed from the ulcers and direct contact (eg., kissing) can transmit the virus from one person to another. Make-up does not stop the virus from being transmitted. The ulcers normally heal within 7 to 10 days. Your Dentist and Pharmacist can suggest various medications to help heal the ulcers. Remember to be careful not to spread the virus to other sites when applying any medication.
ORTHODONTICS While crowded teeth can be attended to at any age, treatment such as orthodontics or braces is usually delayed until all the primary (baby) teeth have been lost. This allows for a thorough examination of how serious the problem is going to be. The face continues to grow during puberty and this growth can often be used to help move teeth into the correct positions. This means that many young teenagers will have braces (and other orthodontic appliances) during the teenage years. The social stigma of such treatment has reduced dramatically and some adolescents want braces as a fashion item even if orthodontic work is not needed!
When orthodontic appliances are worn, extra care is needed for the teeth which become more difficult to clean. A high level of patient cooperation is often needed for successful treatment. If there is difficulty with cooperation it may be better to delay treatment. Most orthodontic treatment can still be done at an older age.
As with all dental conditions your Dentist should be consulted. Your Dentist will diagnose and treat your particular problem. Just as each teenager is unique so are his/her individual problems. Ask your Dentist about how to brush and floss your teeth.
Ask your Pharmacist for advice. 1) Your Pharmacy stocks a wide range of suitable toothbrushes. 2) Brushes can only clean some surfaces of the teeth. To clean between teeth it is important to use floss. There are many brands and types of dental floss. Ask your Dentist for the type that is most suitable for you. 3) Follow the Diet Hints. 4) Your Pharmacy stocks a range of ointments for the treatment of cold sores.
- Try not to snack between meals. Eating between meals without brushing afterwards allows plaque to build up which can result in gingivitis and decay. - After eating it is important to clean your teeth to remove food particles which can allow bacteria to form. - Try to restrict the intake of sugary foods which can damage teeth and promote decay e.g., sports and soft drinks, chocolate, sweets, ice cream etc. - Make sure that you clean your teeth before going to sleep. Going to bed without brushing allows plaque to grow on teeth and gums during the night.
The importance of good oral hygiene cannot be over emphasised. There is no substitute for good regular mechanical cleaning with a toothbrush, toothpaste and floss. Most teenagers will "grow out" of poor oral hygiene habits. Parents should gently encourage good oral hygiene in an effort to prevent any long term damage being done by any short term alterations in behaviour. Teenagers should be encouraged to continue to seek professional oral care. Each teenager should also be encouraged to begin to take responsibility for his/her own health care.
All information has been compiled in collaboration with leading Dental Practitioners and Researchers.
ORGANISATIONS and SUPPORT GROUPSSee the Australian Dental Association topic on the Healthpoint.