As adolescents transition into teenagers and young adults, new oral health risks come into play. For example, some teenagers begin experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol in high school. As a result, smoking or drinking from a young age can turn into habits that are difficult to quit as they reach adulthood.
During this stage of life, teenagers should have an established dental care routine at home. Most importantly, they should also routinely visit a dentist for professional teeth cleanings at least twice a year.
Smoking, eating disorders, oral jewelry, and alcohol are common concerns among teens and young adults. Furthermore, these factors can negatively impact oral health in the long-run:
Nicotine is a highly addictive chemical found in cigarettes, e-cigarettes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. It is also one of the leading causes of disease and death in the United States. Every day, about 2000 teens under 18 years of age try their first cigarette. Consequently, 300 of those teens become regular cigarette smokers. If the smoking rate among teens younger than 18 years of age continues, they are more likely to die prematurely from a smoking-related disease. Among others, long-term smoking is also linked to cancer, heart diseases, and respiratory diseases.
Oral health risks associated with smoking:
Physical appearance is typically very important for most teens. However, getting “thin enough” can become an obsession for many teenage girls and boys. This obsession may be a short phase, but more often than not, a serious eating disorder develops over time. For example, common eating disorders that affect young adults include:
These disorders negatively impact a teen’s physical, mental, and emotional health. They can also lead to the development of common oral conditions, including:
Many teens and young adults get oral piercings. As a result, mouth jewelry can lead to nerve damage and excessive drooling. They can also block x-rays during dental exams. Oral piercings are commonly placed on the tongue or lips, which may result in serious oral health complications, including:
Many teenagers begin experimenting with alcohol and drugs. In fact, by age 18, 60 percent of young adults have had at least one drink. Teens are also more likely to binge drink than adults, which can lead to alcohol addiction later on. Alcoholism can result in serious oral health conditions, such as:
Once all permanent teeth grow in, many teens develop malocclusions (bad bites) and crooked teeth. Braces are the most common type of orthodontic treatment used to fix a patient’s smile. An orthodontist typically places braces when a patient is between 10 and 15 years of age. Although, older teens and young adults are also candidates for treatment. Traditional metal braces are the most effective and affordable option. They fix crowding, align teeth, and reposition the jaw over an 18 month to 3 year period.
Clear aligners, also called invisible aligners, correct misaligned or crooked teeth. They are a removable and “invisible” alternative to braces that are custom-made for every patient. Patients need a new set of aligners every 1 to 2 weeks and they must be worn for about 22 hours a day to correct misalignment. Many teens and young adults choose clear aligners over braces because they are more aesthetically pleasing and removable.
Wisdom teeth (third molars) erupt behind the 12-year-molars (second molars) about five to nine years later. However, a patient’s jaw is typically not large enough for third molars to erupt naturally. Between 16 and 20 years of age, wisdom teeth are typically removed to prevent irregular eruption and misalignment.
Puberty and menstruation can cause increased inflammation and gum sensitivity. As a result, teens are commonly diagnosed with gingivitis, the mildest form of gum disease. Common symptoms of gingivitis include swollen, red, and tender gums. Treatment for gingivitis includes visiting a dentist for professional teeth cleanings and also practicing good oral health at home. If gingivitis is left untreated, periodontal disease can form later on.
Dean, Jeffrey A. McDonald and Averys Dentistry for the Child and Adolescent - E-Book. Mosby, 2015.
“Fast Facts | Fact Sheets | Smoking & Tobacco Use | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/index.htm.
Koch Göran, et al. Pediatric Dentistry: a Clinical Approach. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2017.
“Oral Piercings.” Mouth Healthy TM, https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/o/oral-piercings.
“Underage Drinking.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 26 June 2019, https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/underage-drinking.