Your Questions About Your Teen’s Oral Health Answered

Teenagers certainly know how to make life interesting. If you’re a parent with a teen, you likely know how much joy and frustration they can bring. Whether they make breakfast on Saturday morning or turn up at home with a new piercing, they almost always find ways to surprise you.

As teenagers become more independent, it can be hard to get them to follow instructions, especially, it seems, when it comes to oral health. As the saying goes, it’s wise to pick your battles carefully, but it can be hard to know which decisions can have a negative impact on your teenager’s oral health. Here are the answers to questions that parents with teenagers often ask us. 

Does Invisalign work for teens?

Invisalign works great for teens, especially for those who might be insecure about receiving traditional braces. Invisalign has more going for it than its near invisibility, however, as it’s also comfortable, treats almost any dental issue that braces can treat, and is easier to maintain. Since they’re removable, your teen can eat whatever they want, so you won’t have to worry about them damaging their braces by eating foods they shouldn’t.

Additionally, dental hygiene is much easier to manage with Invisalign; there aren’t any wires and metal plating to painstakingly clean around. The aligner’s clear surface won’t run the risk of cutting or scratching the inside of your teen’s mouth like braces can, either. It’s essential that your teen wears their aligners for at least 22 hours a day, however, in order for them to do their job. Thankfully, the teen line of Invisalign aligners features a discrete blue dot on the lower aligner that you can use to ensure your teen really has them on.  

What’s the best age for my child to get an orthodontic evaluation?

The current recommendation is for children to get their first orthodontic evaluation when their permanent teeth start coming in at about seven years old. This will enable you to get an idea of what kind of treatment your child may need in the future. In most cases, your child won’t undergo any straightening treatments until after all of their permanent teeth are in, usually between the ages of 10 and 14. Although straightening treatments can be undergone at any age, this is when the permanent teeth are most conducive to straightening, as your child’s mouth, head, and jaw are still growing.

How do I get my teen to brush their teeth?

Start by explaining the consequences of ignoring their oral health. Rather than simply cautioning about cavities, describe the cavity-filling process and perhaps even the necessity of a root canal. Stress that the health of their mouth affects the health of their entire body. It’s not wise to rely on fear tactics, though; you certainly want your teen to be aware of the consequences, but fear alone isn’t a great way to motivate your teen. It’s best to offer the information in detail, but in such a way that they can decide what to do with it rather than transparently trying to frighten them.

In addition to providing this information, you should try some more positive methods that will encourage your teen to brush their teeth without being told. Try offering rewards for brushing their teeth often. For example, if they don’t neglect their teeth for a week or two, maybe they can go out to the movies with their friends. You can set smaller weekly rewards to get them motivated in the short term, or you can offer a bigger reward at the end of each month as long as they only forget to brush their teeth a few times during the month.

Does kissing spread cavities?

Kissing doesn’t spread cavities per se, but it certainly does cause exchange of cavity-causing bacteria. The good news is that cavities can be prevented by a great oral hygiene routine, even if your teen’s date has untreated cavities.

How do lip and tongue piercings affect oral health?

Tongue and lip piercings may look cool to your teen, but they pose a number of serious health risks that you may not be aware of. Every person’s mouth contains millions of bacteria, so a tongue piercing becoming infected isn’t uncommon. These infections can cause pain and swelling, and in severe cases, this swelling may enlarge your teen’s tongue so much that it makes it hard for them to breathe. Sensitivities to metals can also cause unexpected allergic reactions once your teen gets the piercing.

People who have piercings often develop the habit of playing with the metal in their mouth, which can damage their teeth, dental fillings, and gums. Nerve damage might result from the piercing itself, causing a numb tongue; this is usually temporary, but it can be permanent. Additionally, the metal piercings can block X-rays, making it difficult for your teen’s dentist to see what’s going on with their teeth. This makes it much harder for your teen to receive dental diagnoses and treatments.

What sports need a mouth guard?

Your teen should wear a mouth guard for any contact or collision sport, such as football, hockey, and boxing. However, they should also wear a mouth guard during any sport or activity where they run the risk of falling or receiving a sudden hit to the face. This includes sports like skateboarding, soccer, gymnastics, and baseball. Wearing a mouth guard might not look cool, but it will help protect the soft tissues in the mouth, prevent injuries to their teeth, and might even prevent injuries to their jaw.

At what age should my teen have their wisdom teeth removed?

Wisdom teeth generally erupt between the ages of 17 and 21. Dr. Diachenko and Dr. Barr may recommend that your teenager’s wisdom teeth are removed shortly after they erupt, or earlier if the teeth are impacted. This is because wisdom teeth often cause dental complications, damaging neighboring teeth or resulting in gum disease or tooth decay since they are often hard to clean. Everyone’s case is different, however, and some people do fine without removing their wisdom teeth.

Will my teen be in pain when their wisdom teeth are coming in?

Your teenager will likely experience some discomfort as their wisdom teeth are coming in, but they shouldn’t be in pain. If they’re experiencing pain, you should call their dentist right away.

While the teenage years certainly come with plenty of difficulties, ensuring that your teen is caring for their oral health is incredibly important. The habits they form now will help them maintain a healthy mouth throughout their lives, saving them money and helping them stay healthier overall.