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Teenagers

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During teenage years it is important to establish healthy routines early. As they become more independent teenagers should take steps to adopt a healthy lifestyle and ensure good health for the future. This includes looking after their teeth and gums for a healthy smile and fresh breath for life.

The main dental diseases are tooth decay (dental caries) and gum diseases (periodontal disease and gingivitis). There are a number of safeguards which can be implemented against these conditions.

Tooth decay

Tooth decay occurs when there is sugar in the diet. Bacteria which are present in everybody’s mouth will use this sugar as a food source and will produce acids when metabolising this sugar. It is these bacterial acids which cause tooth decay. Tooth decay creates holes in the teeth and at its later stages can cause severe toothache and dental abscesses.

The most effective way of preventing tooth decay is to limit the amount of sugar in the diet. Sugary food and drink should be reduced as much as possible. It is especially important to limit the number of sugary products taken every day, ideally only having them at meal times. Sugary snacks eaten between meals or just before going to sleep are particularly harmful.

Tooth-brushing removes dental plaque and thus will reduce the amount of acid-producing bacteria. However, even effective tooth brushing will not prevent tooth decay if the intake (and especially frequency) of sugary foodstuffs is high. This is because bacteria can stick to teeth in areas which are inaccessible to normal tooth cleaning.

Fluoride is a naturally occurring substance. It helps prevent tooth decay by strengthening the surface of teeth and making them more resistant to the acids produced by the bacteria. Fluoride is present in nearly all toothpastes and in some local areas the concentration of fluoride in the water is increased to prevent widespread tooth decay.

Gum disease

Inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria found in dental plaque. After puberty gums will become more prone to gum disease (gingivitis). Gum disease can affect anyone at any time into adult life.

Bleeding gums are often the first indicator of the presence of gum disease. Healthy gums will not bleed even after vigorous brushing. The gums may also become red and swollen and this may be an important cause of bad breath. As this condition is usually painless in its early stages people often ignore the signs until too late and much periodontal damage has occurred

At its early stages gum disease is completely reversible following simple treatment, including proper tooth cleaning. However, if gum disease persists then it will spread and damage the tissue of the jaw. Eventually the teeth will become loose, drift out of position and ultimately fall out. Gum disease is one of the most common causes of tooth loss in adults.

About 10 percent of adults are especially prone to a destructive form of gum disease (periodontitis) and it is particularly important that teeth are checked by a dentist at regular intervals. They will be able to pick up the first signs of disease.

To prevent gum disease it is essential that effective tooth-brushing is regularly carried out. Teeth should be brushed at least twice a day for at least two minutes a time. It is important that all the surfaces of the teeth are cleaned, especially around the insides and the area where the teeth meet the gums.

Erosion

The wearing away of the tooth surface caused by acids found in fruit juices, fizzy drinks, sports drinks, citrus fruits and pickles. Stomach acids that enter the mouth, by reflux or vomiting, may also cause erosion. Eroded teeth are yellow, thinner and are more sensitive. In the long term, erosion can cause very severe tooth wear which is both uncomfortable and unsightly.

To help prevent erosion, limit the frequency of acidic drinks and foods. Teeth should not be brushed for at least 30 minutes after having an acidic drink. This is because the acid temporarily softens the surface of the teeth and brushing them straight away can make them wear away more quickly.

Orthodontic treatment

This treatment is carried out in order to move teeth into a position that will improve their appearance and function. It is usually carried out during the teenage years as teeth and jaws undergo their final growth. Removable or fixed braces are placed on the teeth in order to move them. The process can take between 18 months and two years to complete. During this time regular visits to the orthodontist are made – every six to eight weeks.

While having orthodontic treatment it is essential that the teeth and braces are kept very clean as the braces will tend to encourage the formation of tooth decay and gum disease.

Wisdom teeth

Wisdom teeth are the last teeth that grow at the back of the mouth and usually appear between the ages of 16 and 24 years. Some people do not have wisdom teeth. On occasions wisdom teeth can be painful and cause recurring infections, especially if there is not enough room for them in the mouth (impacted). It is sometimes necessary to have them removed.

Smoking

Smoking has a major effect on the likelihood of developing many diseases including heart disease and cancer. In the mouth, smoking causes staining of the teeth and bad breath, and increases the damage caused by gum disease. In the long term, it can also lead to throat or mouth cancer.

Quitting a smoking habit is always much more difficult than not starting in the first place. Smokers should seriously consider giving it up as this will be hugely beneficial to their overall health, not just their mouth.

Visit the dentist

Teenagers should have regular check-ups with a dentist who will be able to advise about all dental issues and detect any signs of developing disease. A dentist may on occasions refer to an orthodontist for orthodontic treatment and to a dental hygienist for preventative advice about diet, tooth-brushing and treatment of gum problems.