Applying for college, dating, learning to drive – teens have a lot on their minds, and practicing good dental health habits doesn’t always make the list. Unfortunately, this can take a toll on their oral health. In fact, tooth decay is the most common chronic disease for kids and teenagers, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 1 in 7 adolescents ages 12-19 have at least one untreated cavity. Help protect your teen’s smile with these five easy tips:
Stock up on healthy snacks and drinks – For many teenagers, soda, candy and junk food are diet staples, but the sugar in these foods promotes bacteria and cavities. Energy drinks and sports drinks may also contain large amounts of sugar and acid, so caution your kids against guzzling these drinks when they’re thirsty. Encourage healthy drinking and eating habits by making your home a soda-free zone and stocking up on healthy snacks, like hummus and veggies, whole grain crackers and bottled water. If water is too boring to entice your teen, add some low-sugar fruits, like lemon or berries, to a pitcher of water for added flavor.
Talk about smoking – Teens often feel invincible, so they are more likely to flirt with risky behaviors like smoking. Besides the obvious dangers, like lung cancer and heart attack, smoking can lead to an increased risk of tooth decay, gum disease and even oral cancer. If talking to your kids about these risks doesn’t seem to do the trick, try to discourage smoking by appealing to their vanity. Nicotine causes dry mouth, so smoking can lead to chronic bad breath, as well as stained teeth. Remind your teen that bad breath and yellow teeth won’t impress their crush or their peers.
Buy a mouth guard – If your teen participates in contact sports, buying them a mouth guard is a must. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, sports accidents are one of the most common causes of dental injury, accounting for 10 to 39 percent of all dental injuries in children and teens. Even if your child doesn’t play contact sports, investing in a mouth guard at an early age is probably still a good idea. Adolescence is a particularly stressful time, which can cause teens to grind their teeth while they sleep. In the long-term, grinding can cause permanent damage if not treated or caught early. For the best protection, have your teen’s dentist make a custom-fitted mouth guard, rather than relying on store-bought ones.
Schedule regular dental exams – Make sure to take your teen to the dentist at least twice a year to keep them cavity-free and detect underlying health dental problems that may otherwise go unnoticed. For example, damaged enamel, as well as yellow teeth and increased tooth decay, may point to signs of an eating disorder. Your dentist can also assess signs of teeth damage from grinding and take x-rays to check how your child’s wisdom teeth are growing in. Impacted wisdom teeth or wisdom teeth that are growing in sideways may cause dental crowding and crooked teeth.
Promote healthy dental habits – Between after school activities, part-time jobs, sports and studying, busy teens can find plenty of excuses for not brushing. Remind them that brushing twice a day and flossing isn’t just important for their oral health, but essential if they want to keep bad breath and yellow teeth at bay. Ideally, brushing and flossing after meals is best, but if getting your teen in this habit is like pulling teeth (pun intended), pack disposable flossers and sugarless gum made with xylitol in their backpacks. Xylitol, which is a natural sweetener, helps cleanse the mouth and inhibits the growth of bacteria that cause cavities.
Eventually, your teen will leave the nest. While you can’t protect them from everything, you can equip them with basic dental health habits to help keep their smile healthy for life.