Your child has gone for more than a decade with a spotless record at the dentist. Then all of a sudden, he hits the teen years and gets his first cavity. What’s going on? Why does oral hygiene sometimes slip in the teen years, and how can parents motivate big kids with dental care? And how can parents partner with their teens to keep dental care front and center?
What Causes Oral Hygiene to Slide During The Teen Years?
When our kids are little, we often find ourselves hovering near the bathroom while they brush and floss, making sure they do it just right. As our kids grow, we usually give them more control over their hygiene routines. And let’s face it: sometimes parents are in bed way before their teens. Without parental monitoring, oral hygiene can slide. Parents also have less control over what their kids eat and drink as they get older. They have more independence, which is a good thing. But it also means the healthy diets we proudly served when they were toddlers are out the window. We may find ourselves cringing as soft drinks and sweet and salty snacks creep in. But there are ways we can motivate our teens and help them take excellent care of their teeth.
How Can I Help My Teen Take Care Of Their Teeth?
As dentists, we’ve seen several strategies that can motivate teens to improve their oral hygiene.
- Focus on A Great Smile and Fresh Breath – It’s okay to focus on appearance when talking with your teen. Most teens are focused on peer approval and actively seek out a great smile. Remind your teen that basic oral hygiene is the best way to keep their smile looking great. Brushing and flossing twice a day goes a long way toward building beautiful teeth. Leveraging fear of bad breath is another motivator. Daily oral hygiene is the most effective way to achieve fresh breath.
- Say Yes To Technology When Appropriate – If letting your teen get the cool electric toothbrush they’ve seen on YouTube motivates them to brush twice a day, it may be worth the cost. We know that regular brushing with an ADA-accepted toothpaste is one of the most effective ways to prevent cavities and keep gums healthy. Sometimes a high-tech new toothbrush does the trick.
- Focus On Nutrition – Parents can help by setting a terrific example when it comes to nutrition. Make sure to model healthy eating habits and make sure there are plenty of tooth-friendly snacks on hand. Remind teens that eating healthy keeps our teeth and body healthy and helps with our appearance. A healthy diet promotes clear skin, healthy body weight and a great smile. The ADA recommends a diet rich in:
- fruits and vegetables
- whole grains
- lean proteins
- Drink Water – Drinking water makes sure your teen is adequately hydrated. It also washes away food particles and helps prevent plaque build-up on your teeth. Make sure your family limits the consumption of sodas and sports drinks and that adults practice what they preach.
Can Dental Sealants Help My Teen?
Dental sealants are one of the best ways to protect your child’s teeth into the teen years. Dental sealants can prevent up to 80 percent of cavities in molars, according to the CDC. Sealants are a thin protective coating applied to your child’s molars. Ideally, your dentist will apply sealants when the first molars come in around age 6 and again when the second molars erupt around age 12. Dental sealants applied during the elementary years can help protect your teen’s teeth for years to come.
Protect Your Teen’s Teeth With Mouthguards
If your child plays sports, a mouthguard is a must. The boil-and-bite variety available at sporting goods stores is sufficient in many cases. However, if your child has braces or other dental sensitivities, talk with your dentist about a custom mouthguard.
Is Teeth Whitening Safe For Teens?
If your teen has all of their adult teeth, teeth whitening is a safe option. In-office whitening from your family dentist is the best option. Over-the-counter strips and gels take some preparation and may be harmful if misused. Teeth whitening is a perfect reward for excellent oral care and good results at routine checkups for some families.
Your Family Dentist: Supporting You Through The Teen Years
One of the best parts about operating a family dental practice is following young people from toddlerhood through the teen years–and in many cases into adulthood. At Greenhill Family Dental Care, our goal is to help create healthy habits that last a lifetime. But we know there are phases when maintaining those healthy habits can be tricky. The cheese puffs and soda years can be a danger zone for dental health. Our approach is to work with parents to creatively incentivize excellent oral hygiene–even when it’s not a priority for your kids. Together, we can find ways to motivate teens to work toward a gorgeous smile by keeping their teeth and gums healthy.