A previous blog covered some of the biggest oral health risks for adolescents including cavities, gingivitis (gum inflammation), and sports injuries, and offered advice on how to prevent or minimize these oral health challenges. But these are not the only major oral health risks for adolescents.
Since the mouth and body are integral to each other, a healthy mouth helps maintain a healthy body.
Parents and adolescents should also be aware of some other common oral health issues for adolescents including the emergence of wisdom teeth, piercings and mouth art, use of tobacco and other nicotine products like E-cigarettes, and eating disorders.
Wisdom teeth generally emerge when a person reaches their late teens or early twenties. These teeth do not always have to be removed. A dental x-ray can determine if wisdom teeth are properly aligned or if they are misaligned, and are crowding or damaging adjacent teeth, the jawbone or nerves. If they are misaligned, the wisdom teeth will need to be extracted by a dentist or oral surgeon. Removal of problem wisdom teeth is better done at a young age as the wisdom teeth roots are not yet fully developed and the bone is less dense.1 As wisdom teeth can form at different ages for each patient, it’s important for adolescents to have regular dental check-ups so a dentist can monitor the situation and alert parents when issues arise.
Even if a child or adolescent doesn’t smoke, exposure to adults who smoke can increase a child’s risk for tooth decay and for defective enamel formation.2 While teens seem to be getting the message about the negative effects of smoking cigarettes, in recent years they have been drawn to smokeless tobacco products. There has been a dramatic increase in the use of vaping devices within just the last year. A survey, done by the University of Michigan, and released in December 2018, found that 37.3 percent of 12th graders reported vaping in the past 12 months.3
The effects of smoking are well documented and include bad breath, stained teeth, loss of taste and smell, canker sores, failure of dental implants, oral cancer, and the gum recession, bone loss and tooth loss associated with gum disease. Even casual smokers — those who smoke less than half a pack a day — were more than three times likely than nonsmokers to develop periodontal disease.4 Chewing tobacco is also popular with teens. Studies have shown that up to 27% of regular smokeless tobacco users have gum recession and may lose the bone around the teeth, leading to tooth loss.5
At the site where a user holds the tobacco in their mouth, white patches often form. These patches are the beginning of oral cancer. Because of the serious health effects of smoking and smokeless tobacco products, parents should start presenting facts to their children at a young age. This is especially true with vaping products, as 66 percent of teens in a 2016 survey felt that e-cigarettes contained mostly flavoring.6
Most teens are concerned about weight gain, so being aware of a teen’s thoughts and actions related to food is important for parents. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating all have negative effects on the mouth and teeth. These include tooth enamel erosion, cavities, enlargement of the glands that produce saliva, sensitive teeth, dry mouth due to lack of saliva and trauma to the roof of the mouth.7
Piercings and Mouth Art
The mouth contains bacteria, so infections are common with piercings and other mouth art, and these infections can be serious. Teens and their parents need to discuss any plans for piercings and mouth art in advance with their dentist, so that they can be educated on the risks and care of these items.
Adolescence is a time of change and growth which means your oral health is changing too. Good oral hygiene practices will help combat oral health risks that many teenagers as well as adults face. Regular dental checkups are a great way to stay on top of your changing mouth. Ask questions, know the ramifications of your oral health choices and make sure to brush and floss daily, at the very least.
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1 Dental Health and Wisdom Teeth, www.webmd.com
2 Child and Adolescent Oral Health Issues, National Maternal & Child Oral Health Resource Center
3 Teens Using Vaping Devices in Record Numbers
4,5,7 Oral Health Adolescents Fact Sheet, American Dental Hygiene Association, www.adha.org
6 Teens and E-Cigarettes, National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2/2016