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Are you or your child anxious about seeing the dentist? We now offer Sleep Dentistry! Learn more

Oral health for teens and twenty-somethings

Article written by: Marney Mahon

The teenage years and early twenties are exciting times with many changes – starting and finishing high school, going to university, moving out of home, starting your career and beginning new relationships, just to name a few. These are the years for exploring new interests and testing boundaries.

Unfortunately, some of these changes can also affect conditions in the mouth and form habits that have long –term effects on oral health. While some young adults become very conscious of good diet, others start substituting regular nutritious meals for fast food. Eating ‘on the go’ and frequent snacking can become common with teeth affected by such eating patterns, as well as the types of foods and drinks consumed.

Testing the boundaries.
Young adults may start smoking, drinking alcohol, increasing caffeine intake or trying recreational drugs. All of these habits can affect the mouth. Oral problems linked with these include teeth staining, reduced saliva flow, gum disease and oral cancer.

The teen years are a common time for orthodontic treatment. It can be more difficult to keep teeth and gums healthy with all the wires and brackets needed to move the teeth.

Tongue and lip piercings.
There are risks of infection with any body piercing procedures. Individuals should ensure that the instruments used are properly sterilised beforehand to avoid the risk of hepatitis B, C, tetanus or HIV. Certain tongue piercings can chip or break teeth. Gums can also be damaged if the piercings consistently rub against the gum.

Some medicine can affect teeth and gums through high levels of “hidden” sugars or by reducing saliva. Inhalers – particularly those containing steroids – can cause erosion of tooth enamel. Never change your medicines without first consulting your doctor. Ask your doctor about the sugar content of medicines or the affect on saliva.

What to do?
Well, remember the basics! Brush twice daily with fluoride toothpaste – this reduces the risk of tooth decay. The most important time to apply fluoride is prior to bedtime as the flow of saliva is lowest during your sleep. Floss daily to remove the plaque and food debris which toothbrush bristles do not remove. ‘Tooth-friendly’ snack choices are also encouraged like nuts, cheese and fruit compared to less healthy snacks of the sugary, sticky kind such as muesli bars.

Chew sugar-free gum regularly. This helps to stimulate saliva flow and neutralise acids. Saliva is the body’s natural defence against tooth decay as it constantly washes away acids and replenishes minerals in the teeth.

Plus, drink plenty of water with fluoride, which can be a healthy, practical and money-saving alternative to sugary or acidic drinks – and visit your dentist and dental hygienist at regular intervals.