Oral Hygiene Habits
Thursday August 7, 2008 

Dear Dr. Mady: I have a 16 year old daughter that is off school and working part time for the summer. I noticed her oral hygiene habits have gotten much worse recently and the fact that she is wearing braces is compounding the problem. What information can you give me that will help me teach my teenager how to maintain a healthy smile now and later?—Tina in Leamington


Dear Tina: Maintaining excellent dental health is simple for any teenager. Following the proper advice and oral hygiene habits can keep that smile looking great for a very long time. At the same time bad breath, cavities and gum disease can be a part of someone else’s vocabulary and life.

Have your teen brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, floss once a day and use the proper advice of her orthodontist to keep her ortho appliances free of debris. Make sure she keeps regular dental check-up appointments, because only a dentist can properly detect tooth decay, and only a dentist or hygienist can properly remove tartar buildup on teeth. Diet is also very important. A balanced diet and daily vitamins can help keep her mouth healthy. Advise her to limit the amount of snacks in her diet also.

It is important for people at any age to understand that when plaque is not properly removed from teeth every day, cavities and all kinds of other problems can develop. Plaque is sticky and colorless and forms on everyone’s teeth. The bacteria in plaque after eating produce acids that attack enamel the problem is much worse with braces because it is harder to remove all plaque because of brackets and other types of appliances. If not removed daily, this plaque will make enamel hit the point of return with respect to decay. Plaque also assists in the growth and development of gum disease. If not removed daily gingivitis will form and this can progress to a more invasive gum disease if left untreated. The final result of that will surely be tooth loss.

Because your teen is wearing braces, she will have straight teeth with an improved bite and happier smile when that treatment is complete. However cleaning around braces can be an extreme challenge and if it is not diligently completed daily, permanent damage can be done. There are certain aids that can be purchased and used in daily oral care. These include special inter-proximal tooth brushes, floss threaders and superfloss to get passed the ortho wire and right down under the gums and irrigation machines that can jet the food particles out. Fluoride rinses are also available over the counter and any pharmacy and can be very helpful in the fight against tooth decay. Debris left around brackets not only promotes cavities but can cause a thickening of the gums and the papillae in between each teeth and they can swell up profusely. Pockets can form between the teeth and gums and an irreversible periodontal disease can result. When I see this I call it the “Gummy Bears”.

Any teen should always remember to wear a custom sports mouthguard while participating in any physical activities. This can not only prevent tooth damage and loss from injury but concussion also.

Canker sores are common during the teenage years especially during times of stress and they can recur multiple times in the same spot or area. It is important for your teen to understand that these are viral and they will usually disappear in approximately ten days. In the meantime if they are painful, topical anesthetic gels can be applied. Someone with canker sores should stay away from hot and spicy foods.

Many teens have a sore jaw when they wake up in the morning. This is a sign of clenching and grinding of teeth that many teens and actually individuals of all ages experience, especially during stressful times. This is known as Bruxism and can wear down teeth and lead to jaw and TMJ problems later on in life. If your teen is experiencing this, mention it to her dentist and they may recommend a bruxism appliance or nightguard as an initial form of treatment.

If your teen has cravings for snacks in between meals, try and push more nutritional items and orally friendly foods including raw vegetables, cheese, nuts, milk, popcorn, pizza and even sugarless soft drinks in moderation.

If you catch her smoking or using any type of tobacco, put an end to it with any reasonable method possible. Smoking and smokeless tobacco not only cause bad breath and staining of teeth, but commonly lead to oral cancer that may cause death or severe impairment and decreased quality of life.

Many teenagers have habits like chewing objects. These range from pencils and pens, to fingernails and ice cubes. Teeth can be chipped or fractured and nervous habits like these are not desirable for anyone, especially one wearing braces (brackets come off easily). And finally when she gets her braces removed, make sure she follows the instructions of her orthodontist carefully. This includes the wearing of retainers to prevent recurrent shifting of the teeth toward where they were pre-ortho.

Maintaining of teeth and oral health of an adolescent or anyone NOW is a smart investment in their future. Remember a healthy smile is meant to last a lifetime. Any questions or inquiries for “Ask The Dentist” can be e-mailed to Dr. David Mady at drmady@drmady.com . Also check out his new blog at www.dentalden.com (dental education network) where you can comment on his recent articles. Past articles can be viewed at www.drmady.com in the articles section.


This column is reprinted with the permission of the author and The Windsor Star. "Ask the Dentist" is written by Windsor dentist (and ECDS member), Dr. David Mady Jr.. The column appears the first Thursday of each month in the Windsor Star. Readers with questions can write to "Ask The Dentist", c/o The Windsor Star, 167 Ferry St., Windsor Ontario, N9A 4M5



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