Teenagers experience a vast amount of changes in a relatively short amount of time. The physiological, mental, emotional and social changes not only impact their general health but also their oral health.
Peer pressure, convenience and social acceptability can all influence a teenagers food choices. Increased independence often means less time at home, with adolescents making their own dietary choices. This can often mean opting for fast food that is both cheap and convenient. These foods are low in nutritional value and often high in sugar. The food choices we make have a direct impact on our oral health.
Young people are more likely to take part in risky behaviours. They may include the use of alcohol, tobacco and recreation drugs. Such substances are linked to erosion of teeth, increased caries, gum disease and staining of teeth. Additionally, the combination of smoking tobacco and drinking alcohol increases the risk of oral cancer.
Eating disorders have been linked to loss of tooth enamel, caries, oral mucosal lesions, altered salivary function and dental sensitivity. Repeated vomiting from bulimia can also be particularly destructive to teeth, with the erosion of tooth enamel. Teenagers are also susceptible to fad diets that are low in key nutrients required for good oral and general health. Diets low in vitamins and minerals also increase the risk of tooth decay.
Orthodontic appliances can be necessary for correcting alignment in the oral cavity and are commonly used in adolescents. However, these appliances increase the number of sites where plaque can accumulate. Brackets can trap food and if proper oral hygiene is not practised, can cause inflammation and decay.
Engaging teenagers in the conversation of oral health will help establish lifelong healthy habits. Ensuring they have regular check-ups with a dental hygienist and dentist is essential for preventative care.
Reference: Joint Position Statement on Oral Health and Nutrition, October 2015 from Dietitians Associations of Australia and Dental Health Services Victoria.