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When teenagers are in a rush, lots of "annoying, time-consuming things" don’t get done and often taking care of their teeth is one of these, especially if we’re constantly nagging about it, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.
What are the adolescent oral hygiene issues to consider?
Saliva is our natural protection for teeth enamel because it rinses away debris and acids and sports and energy drinks have been found to limit saliva’s effect and become a problem if used for regular daily drinking. They also corrode teeth enamel and the roots of teeth. Diet colas and apple and orange juice are little better.
Mouthguards are essential in high and low-impact activities. Personal experience taught me too late the importance of that piece of advice. It would be wise to get professional advice as to the best sort of mouthguard.
Smoking mightn’t have any immediate effects on dental health but, long term, the staining and bad breath, while not the worst of outcomes from tobacco, also aren’t the most attractive.
Oral piercings, however, can have a more immediate impact on dental health. It’s important to take good care of a piercing to avoid infection, bleeding gums and nerve damage. These piercings can also chip and crack teeth so are best removed for physical activity.
Similarly, extra care needs to be taken with braces. The orthodontist will undoubtedly provide advice for keeping the mouth healthy. The braces can interfere with effective brushing and flossing at a time when hormonal changes make the gums more sensitive and therefore more vulnerable to disease.
Eating disorders can also cause significant damage to the teeth and dental health in general, something often lost among all the other issues being dealt with.
So, if standing over them in the bathroom doorway before school and bedtime isn’t likely to be greatly productive, what might be?
• An appeal to their vanity based on more superficial issues may bear fruit - the stained, ugly teeth, gaps after extraction and bad breath.
• Try a smartphone timer app or even an egg timer to get that 2-3 minutes of brushing rather than 30 seconds.
• Limiting the amount of sugary drink in the house and junk food consumption will help with teeth protection. Get them on to the water bottle if necessary, while a straw can be useful for getting the bulk of a drink past the teeth.
• Chewing sugar-free gum is a useful way of increasing the flow of that protective saliva.
• Get them to the dentist at least once a year and let the dentist know if you’re having issues. Teens may respond better to some advice from the independent professional. And it’s free until they’re 18 years old, whether at school, in tertiary study or working.