Sneaky Cavities: How to Keep Them from Happening to your Teenager

“But she has never had cavities before!? And she brushes her teeth every night? I just don’t understand!!” – A bewildered mother in response to news that her teenage daughter has multiple cavities.

Most teenagers relish the newfound freedoms they find themselves facing: the ability to drive, the use of a cell phone (usually a newer model then that of their parents), the opportunity to take care of their own hygiene, to name just a few. While this new responsibility is often exciting and welcomed by adolescents, it can also be accompanied by negative consequences. Unfortunately, the teenage years are a common time when a person’s risk of developing dental cavities can be high, even if they have previously been cavity-free.

This high caries risk can be attributed to:

-Teenagers with the freedom to drive themselves (or ride with friends/siblings) often fall into poor nutritional habits. This can include a daily stop at the 7/11 on the way home from school for a Big-Gulp of Mountain Dew, studying with a sugary coffee-drink at the library, or drinking Gatorade throughout the week during soccer practice. Soda, coffee-drinks, juice and sports drinks all contain a lot of sugar and can contribute to a high caries risk, especially when consumed between meals.

-Teenagers typically have independence over their oral care and do not always prioritize it. Combine this with them having immature permanent tooth enamel and being the most common population to wear orthodontic appliances and their risk of developing caries can skyrocket.

Here are some tips to keep your teenager’s teeth healthy:

-Regular check-ups are key. The pace of raising a teenager can force routine appointments to the back burner. Remember that your teenager is still a child and will need your help prioritizing, scheduling, and keeping their dental appointment. Your child’s dentist will assess their caries risk at each appointment and may recommend prescription toothpaste or mouth rinses as your child’s habits, and there for risk of developing decay, change.

-Keep the availability of sodas, juice, and sports drinks to a minimum. You may not be able to control what your teenager purchases or drinks when you aren’t around, but you can control when they are home. Get a refillable water bottle for their backpack and encourage them to take it with them when they study, play sports, and visit friends.

-Provide healthier snacks. Instead of frequently making cookies and providing sodas/juices for your teen and their friends, provide popcorn, fruits, nuts, cheeses, or veggies. You know when they get hungry, they will eat whatever is available so try to make it healthy! Some sneaky, “wanna-be healthy” foods to avoid because of their sticky nature are fruit snacks, raisins/craisins and gummy vitamins.

-Stock up!! Keep spare and unopened toothbrushes and floss in your teens bathroom and send it with them when they travel. Eliminate this as an excuse for your teenager to not be taking care of their oral health.

-Say “no” to oral piercings. Piercings often cause chipped teeth and can lead to other oral issues, especially as your child is still growing.

-Say “yes” to mouth guards. More than 200,000 mouth and jaw sports- related injuries occur each year and most parents agree, the inconvenience of wearing a mouth-guard is well worth the risk of an incident.

Dr. Amanda Amanda Kerns, DDS is a pediatric dentist at Drs. Atkins, Maestrello, Miller and Associates Pediatric Dentistry in Richmond, VA. She loves meeting new families at work and spending time with her husband and two boxers down at the James River.

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