Dental Health :: Watch your mouth – oral health care

More than 51 million school hours are lost each year due to dental-related illnesses. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say that dental caries are the most common chronic disease of children aged 5 to 17. While younger children attend appointments with their parents, teens take more control over their free time and may not spend time for dental check-ups.

Many teens do not see a dentist for regular dental care and some have never even been to the dentist, says Cindy Bauer, DDS, MAGD, Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) spokesperson. They don?t get the care they need or the proper oral education to make smart decisions on the foods they eat and on how to practice good oral hygiene habits at home.

In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month (NCDHM) in February, the AGD offers teeth tips for teens.

1. Limit soda drinking: Whether at school, home or on the weekends, teens are drinking more soda than they have in the past. In 1977, 12 to 19-year-olds drank 16 ounces of soda a day. In 1996, this same age group consumed an average of 28 ounces a day.

Not only is sugar harmful to teeth, acidic flavor additives can also erode and damage tooth enamel. There are simple ways for teens to limit the harmful effects of sodas. Sipping soda through a straw cuts down on the contact the beverage has with teeth and rinsing the mouth with water after drinking soda can also reduce the risk of cavities.

2. Avoid oral piercings: Tongue piercing remains a teen trend, however it is not always a healthy choice for mouths. People chip teeth on tongue piercings while eating, sleeping, talking and chewing on the jewelry. Tongue Piercing commonly causes fractured teeth. The fracture can be confined to tooth enamel and require a filling, or it may go deeper; in which case, causing a need for a root canal or extraction.

Infections are also common with oral piercings, and they cause more than pain. A tongue can swell after being punctured, however in some cases the tongue becomes infected and swells so much that it may cut off breathing. Unclean piercing equipment can cause other infections, such as bloodborne hepatitis.

3. Make time for healthy habits: Quick meals in the form of “nutrition” bars and fast food help keep teens alert and on schedule between school, extracurricular activities and part-time jobs. However, today’s fast-paced lifestyle threatens to leave a generation with permanent damage to oral and overall health. Teens can keep travel-size brushes in lockers or back packs. Chewing sugarless gum with xylitol after meals or snacks can also help cleanse the mouth. Drinking water throughout the day can help cleanse the teeth of excess bacteria and food debris.

Teens should also be sure to see their dentist at least twice a year. Regular dental visits can help catch minor problems before they become major ones.