Kids do lots of changing in the teen years, as bodies and minds begin the process of becoming more “grown up.” By now, parental reminders to brush teeth and go easy on sugary snacks might be met with rolled eyes and a groan. But there are still several ways that parents can help their teens to maintain good oral health.
1) Make sure kids get — and wear — a professionally made, custom-fitted mouthguard when playing sports.
The American Dental Association says athletes are 60 times more likely to suffer dental injury if they don't wear a mouthguard. These devices also protect the jaw, lips, cheeks, and tongue — not just the teeth. A mouthguard that's custom-made from a model of your child's teeth costs a little more, but offers greater protection than an off-the-shelf model.
2) Talk to your teens about the dangers of oral piercings.
Like tattoos and iPods, piercings are probably a sign of the times. But that doesn't make them harmless. Installing tongue and lip bolts creates a risk for the teeth and soft tissues that are nearby. Tooth chipping, sensitivity and pain, along with gum recession and infection, are some of the issues that may accompany an oral piercing. Remind teens that future dental problems may be a high price to pay for a fleeting fashion statement.
3) Get professional help if you — or your teen — develop an addiction to tobacco, alcohol or drugs, or an eating disorder.
Nobody wants to admit they aren't in control. But peer pressure, body image concerns and a host of other issues may lead teens into dangerous behaviors. The negative effect of various addictions on one's general health is well-documented; with respect to oral health, there are particular concerns. Tobacco not only stains the teeth, but causes changes in the mouth that can lead to oral cancer. Erosion of the tooth enamel is both a diagnostic signal of a potential eating disorder, and a problem that needs treatment. Don't hesitate to ask questions, particularly when an examination reveals a potential problem, and be sure to seek professional help when needed.
If you would like more information about helping your teen maintain good oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
After her husband, producer Bruce Paltrow, succumbed to oral cancer in 2002, actress Blythe Danner made it her mission to help save other families from the heartache she and her children (Jake and Gwyneth Paltrow) suffered with his loss. Now active with the Oral Cancer Foundation, Blythe uses her fame to bring awareness to the disease, which she says she and her family knew very little about before Bruce received his diagnosis.
In an interview with People magazine, Blythe said she believes her husband's cancer could have been detected earlier if the family had been alert to the symptoms.
“For months I had noticed Bruce's voice was hoarse,” she said. “I started asking him to see a doctor. But he kept saying, ‘No, no, no, I'm fine.’ ”
When a lump became visible in his neck, he did go to the doctor and found he had a tumor in his throat. The cancer eventually spread to his lymph nodes. Compounding Blythe's sadness is the feeling that she might have been able to do something to prevent her husband's death.
“I feel tremendously guilty,” she told the magazine, noting that she wishes she had simply insisted her husband get himself checked out. “Education and early detection are so important,” she said of her campaign to raise awareness. “That's why I'm doing this.”
Though Bruce Paltrow was a smoker, it's important to note that young, non-smokers comprise the fastest-growing segment of the population being diagnosed with the disease. That's because a sexually transmitted virus known as HPV16 is now a major cause of oral cancer.
Oral cancer screenings are yet another good reason to make regular semi-annual visits to the dentist. We have the training to notice oral abnormalities, and to monitor and/or biopsy any suspicious lesions. At your oral cancer screening, we will feel your neck for lumps and inspect your lips and all inside surfaces of the mouth, including the back of your throat.
Of course, if you or a loved one experience persistent hoarseness, white or red patches or other changes in your mouth or tongue that don't go away in a few weeks, please don't hesitate to come in and see us.