Looking after teenagers teeth
Looking after your teeth as a teenager is essential to prevent decay or gum disease. Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth breaks down sugar to cause an acid attack, which then dissolves the teeth.
Sugar + bacteria (plaque) = acid
Enamel = repeated number of acid attacks = decay.
How often you have sugar can affect how much decay you may have. Brushing your teeth with a fluoride toothpaste can protect your teeth.
As with any age group it is important for teenagers to visit the dentist at least once a year to check for any problems and to help stop decay. The dentist can provide preventative treatment as well as giving advice, but also look for disease with the gums and soft tissues round the mouth. The earlier problems are found, the better the result of treatment.
Helping teenagers have healthy teeth
- Snacks and drinks. The biggest cause of decay is the amount and frequency of sugar eaten. The more frequently sugary food and drinks are taken, the more acid is produced and the more damage to teeth occurs. Food and drinks containing sugar or acid should be limited to mealtimes. Try to eat healthy sugar-free snacks between meals. Many foods contain sugar, not just sweets and cakes, beware of any ingredients that end in ‘ose’ such as glucose and fructose, these are sugars. Cereals, plain biscuits and yogurts are also high in sugar content.
- Toothbrushing. Choose a toothbrush with a head no bigger than a pound coin, or choose an electric brush with a rotating head. Do not wet the toothbrush before cleaning as this dilutes the toothpaste. You should spit out and not rinse after brushing, leaving the fluoride toothpaste in the mouth can help strengthen teeth. Brushing teeth last thing at hight can help protect teeth as fluoride in the toothpaste continues to work when you are asleep.
- Bleeding gums. If gums bleed when brushing you need to brush thoroughly to stop the bleeding. Do not stop brushing.
- Dental appliances (braces). If a teenager is wearing an orthodontic appliance (brace) it is important that both the brace and the mouth are kept as clean as possible to reduce the chance of tooth decay and gum disease. Clean the teeth especially round the bracket, a special brush recommended by the dentist can help with this.
- Smoking. In the teenage years the take up of smoking is higher than at any other age. Smoking is very harmful to the mouth in particular, smoking can lead to staining of the teeth, and cause decay by reducing the saliva flow. It ca also lead to gum disease with the loss of bone that holds the teeth in, the teeth can then drop out. There is also the increased risk of developing oral (mouth) cancer.
- Alcohol. Regular drinking of alcohol can wear away (erode) the teeth, leading to decay. Drinking heavy quantities of alcohol (especially alongside smoking) raises the risk of oral (mouth) cancer.
- Piercings. Piercings are very common but have their own problems. They can lead to infection at the site of the piercing which can give pain. Nerve damage to the tongue or lip is another side-effect. The process of piercing itself can increase the risk of infections like hepatitis, HIV and tetanus. Piercings can also damage the teeth where pieces chip off. A change in taste, or an allergic reaction to the metal, have also been known.
- Drugs. There are many drugs that can cause serious side effects that alter your oral health – both prescribed and illegal. They can lead to a dry mouth by reducing the saliva. When the mouth is dry, the teeth are more likely to decay and the soft tissues are easily inflamed, painful and prone to infection. If drugs are taken for a long time, the teeth become stained permanently. It can also lead to unusual bleeding of the gums.
- Eating disorders. Lack of essential minerals can lead to a deterioration of the teeth. Repeated times of vomiting can lead to wearing away of the teeth and painful or blistered lips.
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