How Can Teens Keep Their Smiles Bright?
The best way for teens to enjoy a nice smile and healthy teeth is to continue the good oral habits started early in childhood. Whether or not you wear braces or other orthodontic treatment, it is important to:
- Brush twice a day with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste to remove plaque. Plaque is the main cause of tooth decay and gum disease.
- Floss daily to remove plaque from between your teeth and under your gumline. If plaque is not removed daily, it can harden into tartar —an unsightly, hard yellow build-up.
- Limit sugary or starchy foods, especially sticky snacks.
- Visit the dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups.
In addition to helping teeth last a lifetime, a clean mouth simply makes you feel good. It also gives you fresher breath and a nicer looking smile.
What Special Dental Issues Should a Teenager Know About?
Dental problems can and do occur during the teen years. Becoming better informed about issues that affect oral health can make it easier to make the best decisions.
- Orthodontics — many pre-teens and teens require braces to fix crowded or crooked teeth and poor jaw alignment. Teeth that do not fit together correctly are harder to keep clean, stand a better chance of being lost early, and cause extra stress on the chewing muscles. An orthodontic evaluation will determine if you need braces, and what type of treatment is right for you. If you wear braces, extra care should be taken to properly clean your teeth.
- Mouth Guards — if you play sports, mouth guards are critical to protecting your smile. These devices typically cover the upper teeth, and are designed to protect against broken teeth, cut lips and other damage to your mouth. If you wear braces or other fixed dental appliances (such as a bridge) on your lower jaw, your dentist may suggest a mouth protector for these teeth as well.
- Nutrition — nutrition plays a key role in your dental health. The sugars and starches in many snack foods and drinks support the formation of plaque, which destroys tooth enamel. Limit the number of snacks you eat and drink — each time you consume foods and drinks that contain sugars or starches, your teeth are attacked by acids for 20 minutes or more. Eating a well-balanced diet from the five food groups can make a big difference in your dental health. For snacks, choose nutritious foods such as cheese, raw vegetables, plain yogurt or fruit.
- Smoking — if you don't smoke or chew tobacco, don't start. In addition to other health problems, smoking can stain your teeth and gums, stain the tartar build-up on your teeth and contribute to bad breath. In the long run, chewing tobacco, cigarettes and cigars all increase your risk of developing oral cancer and gum disease. If you do use tobacco, let your dentist and physician know, and make sure you tell them about any mouth problems you may be experiencing.
- Oral Piercing — despite its popularity, oral piercing can cause complications such as infections, uncontrollable bleeding and nerve damage. You can also choke on studs, barbells, or hoops that come loose, and the metal jewelry can also chip or crack teeth and damage your gums. If you're considering oral piercing, let your dentist know; he or she can help you make the safest choices.
- Eating Disorders — both bulimia(binge-eating and vomiting) and anorexia (an inordinate fear of gaining weight often resulting in vomiting) are serious disorders that directly affect the appearance of teeth by eroding the tooth enamel. While a dentist can correct the deteriorated tooth enamel, he or she cannot treat the actual eating disorder — a potential life-threatening condition that requires addressing psychological issues of self-image and self-control. Should you have an eating disorder — or think you might — talk to your physician.
How can I Help Make My Teeth Look Whiter?
Thorough cleanings by a dentist or hygienist will remove most external staining caused by food and tobacco. Using a whitening toothpaste can also help remove these surface stains between dental visits. If stains have been present for years, you may need to have your teeth professionally whitened to remove these more stubborn external stains.
Internal stains can be bleached, bonded or capped (crowned). While each of these methods is safe and effective, your dentist will recommend which treatment is appropriate for you depending on the state of your teeth and the results that you wish to achieve.