Teeth in the Teenage Years

When a child turns 13, their parents have to deal with plenty of well-meaning jokes about bracing themselves for the troubling years ahead. Hear us out, though—teenagers get a bad rap. They are dealing with a bevy of troubles in the middle of a time when brain development and raging hormones are sort of at odds with each other. They are learning to drive, growing into new kinds of bodies, and navigating a world riddled with economic, political, medical, and environmental unknowns. Plus, there's Snapchat. Dealing with that alone can cause moodiness.

Teens are labeled as lazy and moody, but they are in school for eight hours a day, a full workday for their adult counterparts. Then, they go home with assignments to do plus perhaps a part-time job or practice or rehearsal—or maybe more than one of those. They have some stuff going on, and so do their teeth.

Moving and Grooving

Teens might be as tall as adults, but that doesn't mean they are adults. Tall doesn't mean fully grown, and their mouths are often slow to catch up with their legs. Some teens lose the last of their baby teeth quite late in the game, which means their teeth are still shifting and moving through the high school years. This can mean braces, retainers, or both.

Teens are in a phase where public opinion seems to trump everything. They are bombarded daily with social media images that tell them what they should wear and how their hair should look, and they are grinned at by hundreds of perfect Instagram smiles. That can put some mental pressure on a teen to change the way they look.

They need a supportive network that reminds them that their smile brightens up the room because it means they are happy, not because the shape of their teeth matches a famous person XYZ. If braces are desired, be patient with the process and encourage patience in your teen as well. The corrections will last a lot longer if the baby teeth are out of the way for good. If the shade is making your teen feel insecure with their teeth, they can see if they are eligible for at-home teeth whitening.

Danger, Will Robinson

An athletic teen faces a different set of problems. Not only do they have images of the Kardashians flying in their face, but they might also have baseballs, softballs, footballs, hockey pucks, or elbows flying in their direction. They want to play sports and look cool doing it, and so sometimes might resist a mouthguard.

Mouthguards conjure up the image of the generic mouthguards that come standard at any sporting goods store, which look about as comfortable as a boomerang in your mouth. Thankfully, there are custom made options, which will make them far more comfortable. This will work better but generally will cost more. The investment will probably seem very worthwhile when your teen is getting up off the field after a sharp elbow to the mouth, and all their pearly whites are still in their proper place. A custom mouthguard is far cheaper than an emergency dental bill.

Now, how do we get the mouthguard out of the custom cases and into your teen's mouth? Humans like to impress each other with our toughness, and this can be especially true of the adolescent brain, which is focused far more on popularity than protection. We can harness that tendency and tap into the world of celebrities. Steph Curry, LeBron James, and countless other athletes are being smart, cool, and safe all at the same time. Point a hesitant teen in their direction.

They are What They Eat

Teens are known for many things: texting at incredibly high speeds, sleeping for impressively long periods, holding a grudge, and consuming vast amounts of food in one sitting. That kind of food is, generally, not a salad. There is so much unhealthy food being marketed to the teenage population. Kids feel invincible and that affects what they choose to eat.

Soda is an especially dangerous enemy to teen health, and not just their mouths. Soda is full of sugar which turns mouths into bacteria breeding grounds. The carbonation in soda can also inhibit calcium absorption, which spells trouble for strong teeth. Encourage water whenever possible. Leading by example is a powerful way to do this! Encourage healthy snacks and try to keep fresh fruits and vegetables on hand for easy snacking. Raw fruits and vegetables are nature's toothbrush.

A teen's teeth can also be a signal for deeper nutritional problems and disordered eating. The social pressure for perfection can take its toll on a teen's body image, and that can sometimes lead to starvation or binge eating. This can be spotted in their teeth. Keep an eye out for teeth erosion, dry mouth, tooth decay, mouth trauma, enlarged salivary glands, and sensitive teeth. If you have any hunches or gut feelings, follow them! Keep your dentist in the loop, and they can look for these signs without being obtrusive.

Cheer Them on and Lead the Way

The teenage years have their challenges. They need extra love and affirmation, and sometimes they make that the hardest thing to give. The best thing we can do for them is to support them and give them the best example possible. Smile, brush, eat some carrots and give those kids a high five—and a hug if they’ll let you. They deserve it.