Our teenage years are the toughest ones that we go through as the transition from childhood to adulthood is rarely a smooth one. Sometimes in the midst of all this, our teeth can get overlooked – storing up big problems for the future. Here, Dental Hygienist, Jo Dickinson, explains the ways in which our teenagers are damaging their teeth and shares her advice on how we can support them to make positive changes.
Being a mum of two teenage girls myself, I know first-hand how important their image is to them. The hours spent watching YouTube videos on make-up application, together with the in-depth discussions about hair styles and clothes that I’ve witnessed, convince me of this. As I watch them and their friends troupe out of the house, they often stop to glance in the mirror to check their hair or make up; yet I’ve never seen any of them check their teeth. This is despite the fact that our teeth and smiles are rated as the second most important feature which we perceive as attractive in others.
So, how can we support teenagers to look after their teeth?
A recent article written by Cancer Research UK highlighted that the average teenager in the UK drinks more than 234 cans of pop a year – that’s enough to fill a bath tub! An average can of cola contains 35 grams or nine teaspoons of sugar, plus acid and has no nutritional benefit whatsoever. It’s important for teenagers to understand the links between these sugary, acidic drinks and the consequences of tooth decay and obesity. Try buying sugar-free versions of their favourite drinks and explain the damage the sugary versions have on their health. The good news for parents is that the Government intend to create a sugar tax on drinks that contain more than 5% sugar, so are starting to address this issue.
“A recent article written by Cancer Research UK highlighted that the average teenager in the UK drinks more than 234 cans of pop a year – that’s enough to fill a bath tub!”
Teenagers are the group of people most likely to opt for orthodontic braces. If you’ve never worn one yourself, then believe me, they’re not very easy to clean! At least 5 minutes is required every morning and evening to efficiently clean a brace. That’s more than double the recommended tooth brushing time. Parents/carers can support their children by buying them the right kit for cleaning their braces and keeping it topped up. All brace wearers should be using a fluoride mouthwash independently of tooth brushing for example, straight after lunch or as soon as they come in from school/college (rinsing after toothbrushing has a reduced effect).
“At least 5 minutes is required every morning and evening to efficiently clean a brace. That’s more than double the recommended tooth brushing time.”
Orthodontic toothbrushes are designed to adapt to the shape of the brackets and arch wire, and are really useful for keeping braces clean. However, they do need replacing frequently as the wear on the bristles is high. If the enamel around the brackets is not kept scrupulously clean, the tooth can start to demineralise causing white or brown permanent flecks on the teeth. If this happens often, a dentist will opt to remove the orthodontic brace to prevent further damage to the teeth as it’s not in the patient’s best interest to continue with the treatment. There are also a wide range of single tufted and wire bristle brushes that will fit under the arch wire which should be used twice a day. In addition, orthodontic brace wearers should cut their sugar intake by at least half, in particular snacks and sweet drinks between meals. Take a look at these further tips and advice for more on support on looking after teeth while wearing braces.
Many of our foods are sweetened with sugar, even surprising products such as tomato ketchup, baked beans and fruit smoothies. It’s difficult to steer teenagers away from these foods as we’re bombarded with advertising and there is little or no control over what young people are exposed to. What’s more, school tuck shops and vending machines mostly offer snacks and drinks that are not nutritious and also contain very high levels of sugar. As parents/carers, we can also fall into the trap of providing sugary snacks, more often than we would like to admit. One way to support teenagers who are at risk of developing tooth decay is to remove the temptation at home and get rid of the ‘goody cupboard’. Cutting down on sugary snacks often improves an individual’s appetite for healthier foods. You can then provide these snacks as a treat for the whole family, once a week.
“One way to support teenagers who are at risk of developing tooth decay is to remove the temptation at home and get rid of the ‘goody cupboard’.”
Tongue and lip piercing are more common in younger generations and as a hygienist, I am often asked if they can do any harm. The answer is yes! It’s possible for teeth to be chipped and gums can recede, if a piercing rubs against them. Tongue piercings can also result in nerve damage leaving part of the tongue permanently numb. The major concern over oral piercings is the risk of infection, particularly just after it has been done. Therefore, ensure than any piercings are properly talked through with teenagers and if they still wish to go ahead, make sure they are only done by a professional piercer who is registered with the council. Visit NHS Choices for further information on body piercing.
“Tongue piercings can also result in nerve damage leaving part of the tongue permanently numb.”
British people are the second most likely in Europe to visit the dentist for a check-up. However, as a nation we are spending a whopping £5.8 billion pounds a year on dental treatment. As most dental disease can be prevented, it makes sense to encourage future generations to take a preventive approach to their oral care.
“All teenagers should visit their dentist regularly, even if they are not experiencing any problems.”
As this generation of teenagers are expected to live into their 80s, now is a good time to make lifestyle choices that reduce or even remove the need for any future dental treatment. All teenagers should visit their dentist regularly, even if they are not experiencing any problems. By demonstrating a positive attitude towards good preventive care, parents and carers can be good role models that hopefully will influence youngsters’ lifestyle choices for the rest of their lives.
By introducing just a few small changes during their teenage years, it’s possible for them to make improvements to ensure they keep healthy teeth and gums for life.