As parents, your job of fighting against cavities does not stop when your child becomes a teenager. Even teenagers need some guidance and encouragement when it comes to taking care of their teeth. The statistics show that 84 percent of teens have cavities and 64 percent are in the early stages of gum disease. However, gum disease can be overcome if treated early and aggressively.
But how do you offer this guidance and encouragement to them in their rebellious teen years? Here are a few ways you can help:
1. Cater to Their Interests. Instead of just telling your teen they need to brush and floss their teeth—this will most likely go in one ear and out the other—cater to the areas of their life they care about and would want to have healthy teeth. One area might be in dating. Most teens want to look their best during this time. Talk to them about taking proper care of their teeth so they have a bright, shining smile.
Along with that is having fresh breath. As surprising as this might be, most teens don’t connect bad breath with poor dental care. Encourage them to brush and floss their teeth to this end as well. Before they leave the house, have them cup their hand over their mouth and breath into it. If they don’t like the smell, you won’t have to do much convincing for them to head back to their bathroom to brush their teeth. You might even encourage them to eat foods that disguise bad breath if they have trouble getting rid of their bad breath. However—and this is crucial—don’t do any of this in front of their friends, or your friends. You are trying to encourage and guide your teen toward better dental health, not shame them.
2. Be Informed. Make sure you have accurate dental care information. Teens need to see the dentist every six months at least; they should be brushing their teeth twice a day; they should be flossing at least once a day; and they should be using mouthwash for added protection against cavities. Sugary, starch foods should also be limited, or make sure they rinse their mouth out after eating or drinking any of these foods or drinks. Always understand the symptoms of gum disease—red, swollen or bleeding gums—so you will be able to get your teen to a dentist quickly if you see these symptoms developing. The earlier gum disease is caught, the more likely it is to be overcome.
3. Make Healthier Snacks. Instead of frequently making brownies and providing soft drinks for your teen and his/her friends, provide some popcorn, fruits, cheeses or veggies. Making healthier snacks can help you demonstrate to your teen that they need to be eating for their teeth, not just with their teeth.
4. Spare Toothbrush? Keep a few spare and unopened toothbrushes in your bathroom. Also, have extra containers of floss so when your teen runs out they can continue with their flossing habits immediately.
5. Chewing Habits. Don’t let your teen fall into the common habit of chewing on ice or on the ends of their pens and pencils. Doing this can weaken the enamel of their teeth or even break or crack a tooth.
6. Mouth Guards for Sports. Don’t let your teen play contact sports without using a mouth guard. They may feel silly in front of their friends, but they’ll thank you later for protecting their teeth from getting chipped, broken or knocked out.
Additionally, if your teen grinds his/her teeth in his/her sleep—you’ll know if your dentist points it out, you hear them complaining about their jaw being sore or if you see that some of their front teeth are slightly chipped in places—have them use a mouth guard while they sleep.
7. Tobacco Use. While you may not want to admit or acknowledge that your teen uses tobacco, some do and you want to make sure they are protected from it. All forms of tobacco—cigars, cigarettes, chew and dip—are harmful for your teeth and your health.
Tobacco can result in tooth discoloration, tooth loss, gum disease and cancer of the lips, gums, lungs and tongue. Cancer in your mouth can also lead to a partial or complete removal of the jaw.
The best solution to this is to stay away from tobacco. If your teen is already using it, it may be time for an intervention. You can find plenty of pictures of the negative effects of tobacco use online. Show your teen some of these pictures and help them understand the importance of quitting this bad habit. There are even patches that can help them quit.
8. Oral Piercings. Oral piercings can cause a lot of damage to your teen’s mouth if they do not take care of them properly. If they are adamant about getting an oral piercing and nothing you say will deter them, make sure they go to a studio that is continually sanitized. Unsterile places will likely have instruments that can cause infection in your teen’s mouth. Also, if the piercing is set improperly, it can result in chipped teeth or erosion of their teeth and gums. It’s important for your teen to go to a place that is reputable. Additionally, the jewelry used for their piercing should be surgical grade stainless steel as most others can cause infection. With a tongue piercing, the jewel must be taken out and cleaned frequently to prevent bacteria from building in between the piercing and the tongue.
You should also warn your teen of these risks and everything they will have to do to take care of it. That may do the trick in changing their mind.
9. Braces. Not getting your child braces when he or she needs them could lead to cavities or other problems.
Getting them braces when they are young will also be less of a painful process for them. The older you are when you get braces, the longer it will take and the harder it will be. When you are young and still developing, your teeth are easier for dentists to move. While it is still possible to move your teeth when you are older, it might take much longer.