Teenage teeth have special concerns. Many teenager are busy with school, sport, part time work and a hectic social life. There’s also a lot of peer-pressure to look and act in a certain way to be cool.
Teenagers’ active lives can result in broken or chipped teeth if a fitted mouthguard is not worn when playing sport. Teenagers also tend to develop bad habits that can impact on their teeth now and throughout their life. These include oral piercings, nervous habits, dietary habits, smoking and drug use and eating disorders.
Cracked or Broken Teeth
Teeth injuries are quite common, particularly in teenagers! Prevention is better than cure, so ensure they wear a mouthguard fitted by a dentist when playing sport. If they do knock a tooth, visit a dentist to ensure there’s no lasting damage to the tooth, bone or gums. Watch for discolouration of the tooth and pain or sensitivity as these may indicate serious damage.
Oral piercings or tongue splitting may look cool, but they can be dangerous to your teenager’s health. The mouth contains millions of bacteria, and is prone to infection. An infection can quickly become life threatening if not treated promptly. It’s also possible for a piercing to cause your tongue to swell, potentially blocking your airway.
The clinking of a metal piercing against the inside of the front teeth can result in cracked, scratched or sensitive teeth. More seriously, it can cause an abscess in the teeth, resulting in permanent damage and even extraction of damaged teeth.
If your teenager has oral piercings, ensure they use a mouth rinse after every meal and watch for any signs of infection or swelling. If they are playing sport, get them to remove the piercing to avoid injury and protect their teeth with a mouthguard.
Regular brushing, flossing and dental check-ups will help them to maintain their piercing as safely as possible.
Other habits can also damage teenagers’ teeth, including nail biting and chewing pens or similar items. These tend to be stress-related and can become lifelong habits, so speak with your family doctor if your teenager displays nail biting or other nervous habits.
Body image becomes very important for teenagers, and many start fad diets or detoxes. Other teenagers are too busy to eat well, and rely on fast food, sports drinks and energy drinks to keep up with their busy schedule. These all have a negative impact on the health of teenagers’ teeth.
Fad diets and detoxes often involve excessive consumption of liquids with lemon juice or vinegar, as these are believed to assist fat-burning and digestion. However these are very acidic and eat away at tooth enamel. If your teenager is eating or drinking a lot of acidic foods, ensure they rinse their mouth with water immediately to counteract the acid and preserve tooth enamel.
Sports drinks or energy drinks are also high in acid, as well as containing large amounts of stimulants. Aim to reduce your teenager’s dependence on these drinks, and ensure they follow these with a glass of water (ideally tap water which contains fluoride).
Smoking is bad for teenagers’ oral health as well as being harmful to their long term overall health. Smoking stains the teeth and tongue, and slows the healing process after a tooth extraction or other surgery. On a long term basis, smoking has also been linked with gum disease and oral cancer.
Quitting smoking is the only way to decrease your teenager’s risk of these and other smoking-related health problems. Speak with your family doctor about quit smoking programs for your teenager and consult with your dentist about specific dental treatment needs for smokers.
Unfortunately, many teenagers will experiment with drug-taking, which can have devastating consequences for their long term health.
One of the most damaging drugs for oral health is methamphetamine, known as “meth”, which is a highly addictive and potent stimulant. Meth causes shortness of breath, hyperthermia, nausea, vomiting, irregular heart beat, high blood pressure, permanent brain damage and rampant tooth decay.
“Meth mouth” is a term for the extensive oral health damage caused by meth, which includes teeth being blackened, stained, rotting, crumbling or falling apart. When users are high on meth, they have a dry mouth, crave carbonated, sugary substances and tend to grind their teeth, all of which damage the teeth. In many cases, meth users’ teeth are so extensively damaged they must be removed.
If you suspect your teenager is using drugs, contact your family doctor for advice.
Eating disorders, including anorexia, bulimia and binge eating, impact badly on teenagers’ teeth as well as their overall health.
Without the proper nutrition, gums and other soft tissue inside the mouth may bleed easily. The glands that produce saliva may swell and individuals may experience chronic dry mouth.
Many teenagers (and adults) with eating disorders will induce vomiting after eating. The strong stomach acid erodes tooth enamel to the point that the teeth change in colour or shape, with the edges becoming thin and breaking easily. This results in increased sensitivity so eating hot or cold food or drink may become uncomfortable.
If you suspect your teenager may have an eating disorder, contact your family doctor immediately for advice and consult with your dentist about specific treatment needs for this disorder.