When your children are small, you make almost all of the decisions about things that affect their health, including their dental health. You decide what they’ll eat, what they’ll wear, when they’ll visit the dentist, and what procedures they need or don’t need.
But by the time your child becomes a teenager, they’re making more and more of those decisions on their own, and some of those decisions can have serious impacts on their dental health. Take a look at some tips for guiding and encouraging your teen to make smart decisions about their dental health.
1. Insist on Mouth Guards for Sports
Sports and athletics can be important to teenagers. A team sport or athletic pursuit can teach teamwork, leadership, and discipline. Athletics can also be a path to college scholarships and other opportunities for some students. But if your teenager is participating in a sport, be sure that they’re wearing appropriate mouth protection.
In many cases, this means wearing a custom-fitted mouth guard created for your teenager by their dentist. Custom mouth guards can protect your child’s smile from impacts that could crack, chip, or knock out a tooth. Mouth guards also protect teeth from cuts to the soft tissues in the mouth by preventing them from biting their cheek or tongue.
However, the benefits of mouth guards go beyond the teeth and mouth. Studies show that properly-fitted custom mouth guards can reduce your child’s risk of sustaining a traumatic brain injury. This is because the mouth guard functions as a shock absorber. It also helps stabilize the head and neck after the impact.
Mouth guards are not just for high school football players. Any athlete participating in a contact sport or a sport with the possibility of getting hit by a flying projectile can benefit from using a custom mouth guard. Even runners and swimmers are at risk of falls or other impacts and may benefit from using a mouth guard.
2. Say No to Oral Piercings
Many teenagers experiment with their looks. They’re testing boundaries, trying out different identities, and establishing themselves as independent individuals. Many of these experiments are temporary and harmless. Clothes can always be changed or replaced, dyed hair will eventually grow out, and makeup can be washed off.
However, if your teenager wants to experiment with their appearance by getting piercings, be wary. Oral piercings in particular can pose real dangers to your teen’s smile and overall mouth health.
The risk of tooth damage from an oral piercing is high. About 25 percent of teenagers with lip piercings sustain permanent tooth damage, and about 50 percent of teenagers with tongue piercing sustain permanent tooth damage. This kind of damage can happen when the hard piercing comes in contact with the tooth while your teen is talking or eating. Swelling at the piercing site, which is common, can put the piercing in even closer proximity to the nearby teeth, increasing the risk of damage.
What’s more, oral piercings are a welcome mat for all kinds of infections. The mouth is a warm, wet, bacteria-laden environment. Introducing a wound and a foreign object into such an environment is asking for an infection.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry opposes oral piercings for teenagers, and parents should keep this in mind when deciding whether to allow their teenager to get an oral piercing.
3. Watch for Wisdom Teeth
Do you remember when your child was small and their teeth were first coming in? Teething is a stressful time for children and parents, and you were probably relieved when it was behind you. However, you may relive that experience during the teenage years.
Wisdom teeth can emerge during teenage years. Some teenagers may not notice them at first, but others may find their emergence painful. In many cases, there isn’t enough room in the mouth for these teeth, which means that they can become impacted – meaning they grow in at unusual angles.
Impacted wisdom teeth can cause a variety of problems. If your child can reach them to brush effectively, they can decay and become infected. They may also affect the alignment of your teen’s other teeth. If your teen’s wisdom teeth are impacted, these teeth will probably need to be removed.
There are good reasons to have your teen’s wisdom teeth removed earlier, rather than waiting until they become an adult. Teens are likely to heal from surgery more quickly than adults and may have fewer complications.
Your teen might also be less likely to have dental insurance as a young adult. Having their wisdom teeth removed in their teens while they’re still on your insurance plan might prevent your child from facing financial difficulties if they need to have them removed later on.
Make sure that your teenager is visiting a dentist regularly, and don’t hesitate to ask your dentist about teenager-specific dental issues. Your teen’s smile will be a great asset to them throughout their life, so protect it during this critical stage in your child’s development.