As mentioned in part 1 of our story, puberty brings a new set of challenges to oral health especially for girls. The surge of hormones, specifically estrogen & progesterone, cause a change in the bacterial flora found in the oral environment. The most common changes found are an increase in gum inflammation. This will cause gums to become tender& sometimes bleed. A child’s oral hygiene during this time is important in order to keep the gums from overgrowing and causing infection.
Starting your children on a routine of proper oral hygiene early is important. Your dentist & hygienist can help train your kids, with the proper tools, on how to effectively clean their mouths. Brushing and flossing at least twice a day are important. The use of an electric toothbrush may also help kids reach areas they could not with a manual brush. Additionally, flossers now come conveniently packaged for ease of use. Alcohol-free mouth rinses are also effective in reducing the amount of bacteria in the mouth. However, nothing replaces brushing & flossing. The most important time to do this is before bedtime. While we sleep, we produce less saliva than we do while awake. Our saliva helps protect against the harmful bacteria in our mouths. Therefore a clean mouth before bedtime will be most effective in preventing tooth decay & promoting gum health.
As parents, we should heed this same advice and be an example for our kids. Kids often mimic their parents. Therefore develop good oral hygiene habits for yourself & these can be easily passed on to your kids.
Around the age of puberty, kids will be much more aware of their smile & much more self conscious of crooked teeth. If tooth alignment has not been addressed yet with braces or functional appliances (read part 1), now is the time.
A child who is happy with their smile will likely smile more. This may promote more self confidence. Self confidence should be developed as early as possible. This is one of the reasons it is recommended to start orthodontic treatment early. Most orthodontic treatments will last from one to three years. Therefore plan accordingly so that most treatments end by the age of 16.
The final determinant of oral health that is important at this age is nutrition. Proper diet not only affects overall health but oral health as well. Unfortunately, the American Diet is loaded with sugar. Many processed foods, although convenient and affordable, are full of sugar. Bacteria found in the oral cavity feed on this sugar. This, combined with poor oral hygiene, will lead to tooth decay. The breakdown of teeth this early will most likely lead to future dental problems. Therefore start good nutrition habits early with your kids. Start reading the labels & reduce the amount of sugar intake per day.
If you’ve followed this advice, your teenager has a beautiful smile & is eating well & brushing regularly. As a parent, you’ve done your job to develop good habits early. Now your advice as your children transition to young adults is crucial.
Women in their reproductive years present with a new set of challenges when it comes their oral health. This will be discussed in part 3 of our story – Dental Health in the Reproductive Years.