As teenagers grow into adulthood, they face many physical and emotional changes. These changes bring unique challenges and risks to teen health, and oral health is no exception. Any strategy for managing these risks includes knowing what they are, how to avoid them, and what to do when problems arise.
The general health risks of smoking are well-known, but cigarettes and other tobacco products are specifically harmful to oral health in a number of ways.
- Stains on teeth and tongue
- Decreased sense of taste
- Slower healing after extractions and oral surgery
- Gum disease and loss of teeth
- Oral cancers
The best way to avoid these risks is to avoid tobacco products altogether or to quit using them. A smoke-free lifestyle is a healthier lifestyle. If tobacco use has caused any of these problems in your teen, your pediatrician and pediatric dentist can provide treatment and guidance to manage and/or resolve them. Smokefree.gov provides tips and resources to help tobaccos users kick the habit.
Drug use of any kind can pose risks to oral health, especially methamphetamine (or just “meth”). Among the many health problems this drug causes is significant tooth decay. In some cases, professional dental care can salvage rotting teeth, but the damage is often so significant that the teeth have to be removed.
May jewelry may seem cool, but oral piercings can be dangerous for oral health. The mouth is filled with bacteria, and oral piercings run the risk of infection. An infected tongue can become so swollen that the airway is closed off. An infection in the mouth can also lead to a more systemic infection like hepatitis or endocarditis.
The safest course is to avoid oral piercings, but if your teen has them it is crucial that they maintain good oral hygiene, get regular dental checkups, and keep their oral jewelry clean. If you teen shows any sign of infection like pain, redness or swelling, see your dentist right away.
Many teens struggle with body image and self-esteem issues, and these can often lead to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. Anorexia is an obsessive desire to lose weight leading to a refusal to eat. Bulimia is a condition where overeating is followed by depression and self-induced vomiting or fasting. Both conditions can lead to serious oral health problems.
Like the rest of the body, the teeth and gums rely on proper nutrition to maintain normal structure and function. Without good nutrition, the gums and other soft tissues can bleed easily. Vomiting is harmful as well, since stomach acid can break down tooth enamel and make the teeth more prone to breaking. If you suspect that your teen is suffering from an eating disorder, talk to a counselor and your health care professional.
The teen years can be a bumpy ride, but being aware of and talking openly about the risks your teen faces can make it smoother for everyone.