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When a Smile Isn't Perfect: Talking to Your Teens About How Teeth Develop

Remind your kids that they're far from alone when it comes to having a less-than-perfect smile during their teen years.
Remind your kids that they're far from alone when it comes to having a less-than-perfect smile during their teen years.
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When you're an adult, it's easy to forget just how tough it is to be a teenager. With the difficulties of school, friends and hormones, the time between child and adult can be tricky to navigate. And to top it all off, some teenagers have to deal with less-than-perfect teeth, too. Life is hard enough without being self-conscious about your smile.

If your teenager is dealing with an imperfect set of teeth, take the time to talk with him about it. First off, remind him that his mouth are still changing. Even when all of our regular teeth have come in, it takes a while for our jaws to grow large enough to accommodate all those teeth. Then there are wisdom teeth, which start to erupt in the late teens. According to WebMD, not everyone gets wisdom teeth, but those who do often experience problems as a result. Wisdom teeth can grow in sideways, crowd your other molars or affect the health of your jawbone or nerves. If your dentist thinks your teenager's wisdom teeth are going to present a problem for his overall oral health, he will likely recommend that they be removed.

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In other words: your teenager's teeth aren't finished, yet. But that might not be very comforting to your teen if he feels self-conscious about his crooked teeth. Be sure to remind him that just about no one would have an absolutely perfect smile without the aid of braces, retainers or other orthodontic procedures.

Also emphasize to your kid that he can help out his future self by taking good care of his teeth now. Tobacco is a bad idea for a number of reasons, but the negative consequences most relevant to him now include stained teeth and bad breath. Oral piercings -- including tongue, lip and cheek rings and studs -- are fashionable but bad for his mouth. The American Dental Association warns that such piercings can result in chipped teeth, infection, nerve damage or sensitivity to metal.

Read on to find out what else you can do to help your teen make the most of his smile.

Staying away from tobacco products and piercings will help, but make sure your teenager doesn't ignore the basics of dental hygiene, either. The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth at least twice a day, with one of those times occurring before bed. Use toothpaste with fluoride for the best results, and replace your toothbrush every three or four months. Flossing should also be a daily activity, so be sure your teen knows the proper technique for flossing (use a gentle back-and-forth motion). Diet is important, too; foods rich in vitamin C and calcium will help maintain tooth strength.

Regular dental checkups are essential to your teenager's overall health and well-being. Check in with your teen's dentist about his oral health, and if your child is anxious about his teeth, ask the dentist for advice on how to proceed. He may recommend consulting an orthodontist.

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Typically, we associate orthodontics with crooked teeth, but the real heart of the matter is something called malocclusion. That's a fancy term for your "bite" being off, which could be caused by crooked teeth or misaligned jaws. There are lots of reasons things might go astray, from genetics to injury.

Whatever the cause, the orthodontist can help you and your teen determine the best course of action to correct the malocclusion. Some options are traditional braces or fixed appliances (which are kind of like non-removable retainers). Others, such as regular retainers and night guards, can be taken in and out by the wearer.

Obviously, the prospect of wearing any kind of orthodontic appliance might not make your teen feel less self-conscious about his smile, but remind him of the long-term benefits and that he is certainly not alone in his plight.

Fixing these problems does have the added benefit of a nicer-looking smile, but the real goal is to improve the overall health of your teen's mouth. As the ADA notes, straight, evenly-spaced teeth have less chance of trapping plaque, thus reducing the chance of tooth decay. That's enough to make both you and your teen smile.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • American Dental Association. "Braces and Orthodontics." (Sept. 15, 2011) http://ada.org/3061.aspx?currentTab=1
  • American Dental Association. "Cleaning Your Teeth and Gums." (Sept. 15, 2011) http://www.ada.org/2624.aspx
  • American Dental Association. "Oral Piercing." (Sept. 13, 2011) http://www.ada.org/3090.aspx
  • American Association of Orthodontists. "Glossary." (Sept. 17, 2011) http://www.braces.org/learn/glossary.cfm
  • Braces Review. "History of Orthodontics." (Sept. 14, 2011) http://www.bracesreview.com/history-of-orthodontics.html
  • WebMD. "Wisdom Teeth: Impaction, Removal, Function, and More." March 15, 2009. (Sept. 14, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/wisdom-teeth

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