3 Ways To Help Your Teenager Avoid Cavities

Posted on 11/18/2019
A teenage girl smiling

Although teenagers know how to brush and floss, getting them to do a good job of these habits is another issue. If your teen keeps getting cavities, then you may need to come up with some creative solutions to supplement their oral hygiene habits. Here are three ways to help your teen avoid cavities.

1. Encourage Them to Chew Sugar-Free Gum

You may try to limit your teen's diet, but they may get sugary snacks and drinks at school or at friends' houses. These unhealthy meals can cause bacteria biofilms, or plaque, which then cause cavities.

Plaque-causing bacteria feeds on food debris. The bacteria create acidic byproducts which damage teeth. Sugar-free gum can help to clear away food debris before plaque builds up.

Your teen can also chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva flow. Saliva is the oral cavity's natural cleaning agent. While it is mostly made up of water, saliva also contains antibacterial chemicals, minerals, and proteins.

All these components help to wash away acidic byproducts and protect your teen's enamel from demineralization. In fact, studies have shown that chewing sugar-free gum can significantly improve saliva flow, and in effect, reduce the risk of cavities.

If your teen doesn't produce enough saliva to begin with, they could have xerostomia, commonly known as "dry mouth." Dry mouth can lead to an increased risk of cavities but chewing sugar-free gum can help.

2. Have a Pediatric Dentist Apply Sealants

Sealants are plastic coatings that your dentist can apply to the grooves of teeth. Some parents may think that only young children can get sealants, but the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends them for young teens as well.

Having your dentist apply sealants to your teen's teeth can greatly reduce their risk of cavities. As the name suggests, sealants seal out debris. In order for plaque to cause decay on the enamel, they would have to get through the sealants first.

Some parents are concerned about the safety of sealants since they are made of plastic. However, they have very low levels of BPA, so they are safe for your teenager.

Sealants are a great preventative measure against cavities. Your dentist can apply the sealants quickly to molars and premolars in one visit. Plus, your teen won't have to worry about any needles or anesthetic since sealant application is pain-free.

Once the sealants are applied, they can last your teen many years with good care. It's important to take your teen to regular cleanings since it's the perfect time for him or her to check if the sealants are chipped or worn. If they do happen to wear down, the pediatric dentist can repair them with new resin.

3. Buy an Oral Irrigator so Your Teen Can

Clean Interproximal Spaces A lot of people struggle with regular flossing. If your teen has shirked this habit, they could develop interproximal cavities, or cavities between teeth. The bristles of a toothbrush cannot adequately clean these areas.

Without regular flossing, your teen could also raise his or her risk of gingivitis and gum disease. Gum disease doesn't just occur in older populations—teens can get it too if their flossing habits are poor.

If your teen tries to floss again after a lengthy break, it can be uncomfortable and cause bleeding gums. If this is the case, consider investing in an oral irrigator. These devices shoot a stream of water to reach interproximal spaces, thus reducing cavities. Oral irrigators are also great at improving gum health since they can reach areas that your teen may be missing with regular floss. Also, if your teen has braces or another orthodontic appliance, they may struggle to thread floss in and out without shredding it. The oral irrigator is easy to use and can clean thoroughly around orthodontic appliances. Some irrigators can be an investment, but the benefits may outweigh the initial costs—especially if your child doesn't need as many fillings.

Some studies have found oral irrigators to be more efficient than traditional floss, but you should talk with your child's dentist for further instruction. The irrigator shouldn't replace flossing, but it could be a good temporary compromise until your teen's oral health improves.

Keep these three ideas in mind if you are looking for ways to help your teen avoid cavities. If your teen brushes and flosses regularly but is still getting cavities, you may simply need to assess their overall health. For example, if your teen suffers from bruxism (teeth grinding), then they may have weakened enamel that is vulnerable to decay despite good brushing/flossing.

It may also be time to assess the overall diet in your family. If the cavity problem affects more than just the teenagers of the family, consider making adjustments with certain foods and beverages. Take a look at food labels to see how much sugar your family is consuming. Lastly, talk with your dentist for more advice on how to help your teen avoid cavities.

Contact us at Dentistry for Children & Adolescents for more information about sealants and how preventative care can help.