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Sure, the good habits you worked hard to instill in their early years — healthy diet, limiting sugary drinks, brushing, flossing and regular dental checkups — are still the foundation of a healthy mouth and smile.
Still, it’s a good idea to keep these on your radar, too, when it comes to your teen’s teeth.
The arrival of adult teeth happens in stages — starting at about six to seven years old. Over the next six or seven years, the gaps fill in. While every kid is different, most have all 28 permanent teeth in place by the time they’re 13. Often, the teeth have enough room to grow in straight. But for many kids, that’s not the case. In fact, crooked teeth are often genetic and will remain crooked without help to realign them. The American Association of Orthodontists reports that children’s teeth do not straighten out as kids grow.
Crooked, misaligned teeth don’t just affect smiles. Left untreated in some children, they can cause pain or make it difficult to eat, drink, speak and breathe.
As a result, it’s no surprise that 3.5 million teens and kids start wearing braces every year. Talk with your teen’s dentist to see if and when they need to see an orthodontist.
Called “third molars,” these teeth most often come in between a person’s 17th and 21st birthdays. They don’t always cause an issue. Many people don’t even know they’ve come in until a dentist sees them on an X-ray. Your dentist may recommend they be removed if they cause painful, crowd the mouth, are in the wrong position, or could affect oral health later.
Teens who play any kind of contact sport should be outfitted with a protective mouthguard. Skateboarders and snowboarders should guard up, too. Mouthguards keep teeth from being broken or knocked. By absorbing blows to the teeth, lips and cheeks, they protect your teen’s pearly whites. Talk with your teen’s dentist to see which type of mouthguard offers the best protection for the sport they play.
Your teen may think a pierced tongue or lip looks cool, but piercings can easily become infected. The mouth is home to millions of bacteria. It’s no surprise that they can easily nestle into a hole made to hold a stud or ring jewelry. With the growing popularity of piercings, dentists are seeing more serious infections. With some, the mouth and tongue swell so much in endangers breathing. Infected mouth piercings can even lead to hepatitis and infections of the heart. Have a serious talk with your teen about these dangers early before they even think about piercings.
Teeth tell a story about our health. Over time, smoking stains tooth enamel. It also causes bleeding gums, cavities and tooth loss. Most importantly, it leads to a higher risk of oral cancer.
Alcohol destroys the enamel that protects teeth. Once tooth enamel is gone, the body can’t replace it. Teeth are left sensitive and prone to tooth decay. And like smoking, alcohol boosts the risk for cancer.
Many of us have seen photos of meth addicts with rotted teeth. Methamphetamines aren’t the only drugs that harm teeth. Everything from marijuana and ecstasy to cocaine and heroin all inflict major damage to the teeth, gums and overall oral health—along with life-threatening harm to other parts of the body.
Keeping teeth healthy doesn’t happen automatically. Help your teen navigate the dental issues that are part of growing up. When you do, you help set them up with a healthy mouth for life.
Originally published 2/24/2016; Revised 2021, 2023
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico, a Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association
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