A few years ago, I realized that I was thinking about dental care all wrong. Instead of listening carefully to my dentist and making the necessary changes, I assumed that he was ultimately responsible for making sure that my teeth stayed healthy. Unfortunately, I developed a few serious cavities because I failed to properly brush and floss my teeth, and I knew that it was my fault. I decided to start taking notes at my dental checkups and carefully abiding by the dentist's orders. The difference was almost miraculous. This blog is all about working with your dentist to improve your result.
As your children enter their teenage years, you undoubtedly have a full plate of worries without also losing sleep over the state of their teeth. But once you're aware of the specific dental challenges teenagers face, you're in a much better position to deal with them effectively. Here are some common issues that threaten teenage teeth -- and what you can do to prevent or correct them.
The words "adolescence" and "braces" seem to go together, and for good reason. It usually isn't until the teenage years that all the baby teeth have been replaced by permanent teeth. Once the permanent teeth have erupted, we can see whether they're likely to cause a malocclusion, or misaligned bite, due to uneven spacing or odd angles. Not only do these abnormalities cause significant embarrassment to a sensitive teenager, but over time they can also lead to uneven tooth wear, jaw pain and other health issues.
Orthodontic treatment has always been the standard non-surgical strategy for correcting a malocclusion. If your teen is depressed at the thought of getting braces, the good news is that modern braces come in more style and design options than ever, including:
Tooth enamel may seem hard, but it's only as durable as the density of calcium and other minerals it contains -- and minerals can be dissolved by corrosive substances. Teenagers who knock down multiple sodas a day are asking for serious trouble. That's because the carbonation, citric acid and other substances can leach the minerals out of tooth enamel, causing it to grow thin and vulnerable to breakage. Meanwhile, the sugars in non-diet soda act as a food source for bacteria, which then eat their way right into the weakened teeth. Talk to your teenage kids about the effects of soda on teeth; you'll probably find that they're not into sporting a smile full of diseased, broken or missing teeth in their senior class photos!
Eating disorders are an even more dangerous cause of teenage tooth erosion. Image-conscious teens may turn to behaviors such as anorexia or bulimia to help them control their weight or cope with certain emotional problems. These behaviors, both of which can involve throwing up, not only expose the teeth to digestive acids but cause serious systemic health problems. If you suspect an eating disorder, make sure your teen receives the appropriate emotional counseling in addition to any necessary dental repairs.
If some extra teeth show up on your child's x-ray during the teenage years, they're almost certainly wisdom teeth. Wisdom teeth are the final permanent molars to erupt, and they tend to overcrowd an already crowded mouth, putting unwanted pressure on neighboring teeth. The limited real estate in the back of the mouth often forces wisdom to grow in at a sharp angle, contributing to dental pain, infections and jaw abscesses.
Your teen may have four impacted wisdom teeth at the same time, just one, or none at all. It usually takes about 45 minutes to remove a wisdom tooth, and the procedure is done under a local anesthetic (with the additional option of dental sedation in many practices). Your teen needs to treat the empty tooth socket with great care for several days following the procedure. Sucking on a straw or eating chewy/sticky foods may dislodge the protective clot in the socket, causing severe pain. Smoking can also cause a dry socket -- so if your teen has taken up this dangerous habit, this would be the perfect time for him to quit!
The teenage years tend to be emotionally stressful, with their seemingly endless parade of exams, tryouts, report cards, social crises and college applications. It's little wonder, then, that many teenagers take up the stress-related behavior known as bruxism (tooth rinding and/or clenching). But bruxism provides some stressors of its own. This habit can cause or worsen jaw pain, playing a major role in chronic pain conditions such as TMJ. It also wears the teeth down prematurely, making them more sensitive to heat and cold, and contributes to the development of recessed gums.
Fortunately, your dentist can recommend therapeutic techniques and devices to help keep your teen's bruxism at bay. The use of a custom-fitted mouth guard can protect the teeth against overnight tooth grinding. Your teenager may also want to try harmless stress-busting techniques such as yoga, massage therapy, meditation or regular exercise. Sometimes a bite misalignment can play a role in bruxism, in which case orthodontic treatment, corrective headgear or even surgery may be advisable.
You can play a valuable role in ensuring that your teenager's teeth will grow in normally and setting the stage for a lifetime of optimal dental health. Talk to your family dentist or find out here more about developing a smart adolescent dental strategy!