Adolescence and Oral Care
How you help your children to care for their oral health must change as their physiology changes. Adolescence is the time when their permanent teeth are erupting while the growth of their facial and jaw bones is changing the size and shape of their mouths. This makes adolescence the time when your kids will be most likely to need braces.
If you have a question about your adolescent child’s dental health or need to set up an appointment to correct a problem of adolescent oral development, then call us at (480) 422-4544 or contact us online. We know adolescent dentistry. It’s what we do. We can help.
Adolescence is also a time when your children can begin to experiment with behaviors and substances that can affect their dental health, like snack foods and energy drinks that are laced with sugar, and in some cases experimentation with tobacco. It is also the time when they can start exploring their sexuality, which can lead to oral health consequences.
At Ironwood Dental, we specialize in pediatric dentistry from the time your child’s first baby tooth erupts to when they choose an adult dentist of their own. How we support your children’s journey through adolescence keeps pace with the ways that their physical development and adolescent behaviors affect their oral health.
Common Dental Problems of Adolescence
Some of the problems your children can experience in their childhood years can persist into their adolescent and teenage years. Others arise in connection with how they grow. Here are the most common adolescent dental issues we see at our Scottsdale, Arizona offices.
The adolescent years are when children’s risk of tooth decay is highest. Factors that contribute to this increased risk of cavities include:
- The enamel of newly-erupting permanent teeth is still not fully developed, making the enamel less resistant to the corrosive effects of built-up plaque and tartar.
- The greater number of permanent teeth (32 compared to 20 baby teeth), and their larger size means that the surface area of the teeth where cavities can develop increases.
- Your child can begin to develop bad oral hygiene habits when you are not present, like neglecting to brush and floss at least twice daily, and they can start eating a poor diet rich in sugar (soft drinks, energy drinks, and sugary snacks.
The main way to minimize the risk of tooth decay is by the use of fluoride. Common sources of fluoride include fluoride toothpastes and tap water.. In some cases when ordinary fluoride exposure through these common sources is not enough, we can apply fluoride directly to your child’s teeth as a sealant or prescribe a topical fluoride treatment he or she can apply at home.
Fluoride in your child’s oral health is important up to age 16 in helping their tooth enamel to fully develop, but they can still receive some benefits from fluoride all the way to reaching adulthood.
When fluoride is not enough, and tooth decay starts to take hold in your child’s mouth, then the solution shifts from prevention to restorative dentistry.
Restorative dentistry takes different forms depending on your child’s needs. It might start with treatments to remineralize tooth enamel that is breaking down. If this is not enough, then the next level of restoration can include cavity fillings and the use of resins to fill in places where the tooth enamel is weakening into the white spots commonly known as “chalky teeth.”
Finally, in cases where adolescent tooth decay is so advanced that resins and fillings are not enough, more advanced treatments like crowns, root canals, or even tooth extractions may become necessary.
Adolescence is a time of heightened risk of developing gingivitis or periodontitis. Some studies suggest that adult problems with irreversible periodontal disease begin during adolescence.
Like the way that your child’s permanent teeth development can lead to a higher risk of tooth decay, changes in your child’s oral physiology can increase the risk of gum disease. Factors like crowded teeth, tooth decay, bad oral hygiene habits and poor diet choices, as well as breathing through the mouth are all common contributors to gum disease. Some evidence suggests that the increasing production of sex hormones during puberty can also play a role.
Prevention of gum disease relies on the same good oral hygiene practices that help prevent tooth decay: brushing and flossing at least twice a day are the twin cores of this preventive strategy. Using an antibacterial oral rinse twice daily can also help slow the development of gingivitis.
The same routine dental checkups and cleanings we do for your children to fix tooth decay problems also apply to gum disease treatment and prevention. Indeed, if gingivitis worsens into periodontitis, a deep cleaning at our Scottsdale office is the only way to correct the problem.
Bad Oral Hygiene and Poor Dietary Choices
When your children are small, it is easier to closely monitor how they take care of their teeth. As they grow older, though, children become more independent. This can be a mixed blessing for you as a parent: on one hand, you no longer need to help your child to do routine oral health activities like brushing and flossing. On the other hand, when it comes to unsupervised brushing and flossing, many adolescents become less likely to help themselves by skipping on tooth brushing and flossing and by exercising their increasing independence to indulge in foods that can be highly damaging to tooth enamel and to gum diseases like gingivitis or periodontal disease.
The best thing you can do to keep your children from suffering from bad oral hygiene habits is to keep encouraging them not to forget the good ones you taught them when they were younger. There may be only so much you can do in this regard, given that adolescent and teenage years are when growing feelings of independence from mom and dad can translate into rebellious behaviors – especially if they perceive you as nagging or overbearing in your reminders.
When it comes to counteracting the adolescent temptation to neglect oral hygiene, we can be your trusted ally in preventing that neglect from turning into tooth decay or gum disease. By scheduling your kids for twice-yearly dental checkups and regular dental cleanings, we can catch dental caries before it worsens into a cavity and treat gingivitis before it becomes periodontal disease.
Malocclusions or “crooked teeth” are an example of a dental problem that is largely one of adolescence. Tooth malocclusions can happen because of multiple reasons, many of which, like genetic factors that predispose malocclusion, you cannot do anything to prevent.
Treatment for malocclusion often includes metal or ceramic braces, invisible aligners like the InvisAlign aligners that we use in our Scottsdale dental offices, or in some milder cases through the use of retainers.
Traumatic Mouth Injuries
According to available evidence, statistically your child has a 1-in-4 chance of suffering some kind of mouth trauma.
Most traumatic mouth injuries come from falls, collisions and other accidents, sports and recreational activities, and in some cases from physical violence. Most of the time, the incisor teeth will take the brunt of damage from these injuries. Aside from chipped, broken, loose or missing teeth, traumatic injuries to the mouth can also have follow-on effects including speech difficulties.
When appropriate for wear, such as in athletic events, mouthguards are a good way to help prevent dental trauma injuries. Restorative treatment for damaged teeth can take the form of cosmetic tooth reconstruction using tooth-colored ceramics or, in more serious cases, reconstructive dental surgery might be necessary.
Use of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Recreational Drugs
The adolescent years are usually ones in which your children will be curious about many things, including some substances that are potentially harmful to their dental and overall health. For example, adolescent tobacco use can stain teeth and contribute to bad breath, but in the longer term it can cause more serious general health effects including receding gums, mouth and throat cancers, lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, heart disease, emphysema, high blood pressure, and stroke.
Another tendency more common in adolescents than in children and adults is interest in various kinds of body art, of which oral piercings of the lips, cheeks, and tongue are examples. Sometimes these can lead to oral health problems, including
- Pain and swelling in pierced area
- Nerve damage
- Infections like hepatitis B, hepatitis C, tetanus, Epstein-Barr virus, tuberculosis, and human immunodeficiency syndrome
- Choking (from loose jewelry)
- Tooth enamel fractures
- Gum injury
- Speech impediments
- Difficulty swallowing
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Especially as adolescent children enter their teenage years, their transition to adulthood will begin to express itself in more adult-oriented interests and, in some cases, high-risk sexual behaviors. One of the consequences of unbridled adolescent experimentation with sexual expression can be sexually transmitted infections. For example, the human papilloma virus (HPV) is connected with some cancers of the mouth and throat.
One result of sexual experimentation among adolescents can be a pregnancy. During pregnancy an adolescent’s mouth can be affected by conditions like pregnancy-related dry mouth, which in turn can lead to dry mouth consequences like increased risk of gingivitis.
In some cases, pregnancy can have a connection with pyogenic granuloma, also known as “pregnancy tumors” that can occur in the gums.
A few mental health conditions can occur during adolescence that can affect your child’s oral health. One example is bulimia, which contributes to tooth enamel erosion.
Treatment for Adolescent Dental Problems
Preventing and correcting adolescent dental health problems involves a multi-pronged approach that includes continuing good childhood dental health habits, educating adolescent children about the risks inherent in some of their food choices, activities, and interactions with others that can affect their oral and general health, regular checkups at least twice yearly, and when necessary, treatment at our Scottsdale offices.
Early diagnosis is important for successful treatment of adolescent periodontal diseases. It is important that your children receive a periodontal examination as part of their routine dental visits. If your child has an advanced form of periodontal disease, this may be an early sign of a systemic disease. We may recommend a general medical evaluation for children who exhibit severe periodontitis, especially if it appears resistant to therapy.
Check your children’s mouths for the signs of gum disease, including bleeding gums, swollen and bright red gums, gums that are receding away from the teeth, and bad breath.
Encourage them to continue the good oral hygiene habits you taught them when they were younger, like brushing and flossing twice daily and brushing after meals if possible. Practicing those same habits yourself will help because even when they are teenagers your children still look up to you as a source of guidance for themselves.
If your child currently has poor oral health habits, work with your child to change these now. It’s much easier to modify these habits in a child than in an adult. Since your child models behavior after you, it follows that you should serve as a positive role model in your oral hygiene habits. A healthy smile, good breath, and strong teeth all contribute to a young person’s sense of personal appearance, as well as confidence and self-esteem.
Trust Ironwood Dental for Your Adolescent Children’s Dental Health
The best dentist in Scottsdale to help you monitor and treat your adolescent children’s dental health is the same one that treated them in early childhood. If Ironwood Dental is their childhood dentist, then you can be confident that we will know their individual dental histories as their oral health issues change with adolescence.
We offer child dental services in Scottsdale through all stages of your child’s growth, all the way to adulthood, including checkups, dental fillings, braces and aligners, and oral surgery services. We can help you with practical advice on how to encourage good oral hygiene habits for your children, and answer any questions you have about their dental health.
To set up an appointment with one of our pediatric dentists, call us in Scottsdale at (480) 422-4544. If you prefer to contact us online to ask a question or to schedule an appointment, you can reach us here.
Even though your adolescent children are beginning their journey of independence, you can still play an important role in keeping their teeth and gums healthy by helping us to help them. Call us today, (480) 422-4522.