Dental Duels With Your Teen: Should You Advance Or Retreat?

Posted on: 31 March 2015

As a parent of teenagers, you have to choose your battles. There are many issues your teens can take up arms with you about in the course of any 24 hours. As the responsible adult, you have to decide which ones warrant battle advance--and which ones warrant retreat. Some of those issues you choose to retreat on are lessons they need to learn on their own, sometimes painfully. One of those issues in your home might be your teens' oral health. Currently, the overall view of the adolescent oral health battlefield is showing some battlefield casualties. You may figure the best strategy is to throw on your armor and get out there in the trenches to take charge of your kids' brushing and flossing. However, this is one battle you may have to step aside for and let your kids learn on their own. 

Everything teens need to know about oral health, they learned in kindergarten

It's true that good oral health is not difficult to achieve. From the time your children were young, you taught them how to take care of their teeth. You provided nutritious meals and limited sweet snacks. You made sure they brushed after each meal and flossed every day. You took them to dentist appointments twice a year. In fact, by the time children reach adolescence, they are well aware of how to prevent cavities and gum disease.

Dental health dives during the teen years

Despite knowing how best to take care of their teeth and gums, it appears that teens rebel in the area of oral health just as they do in so many others. Recent statistics tell the tale:

  • The number of cavities in preschool children has declined to an all-time low of 23 percent.

  • Only 10% of preschool children have untreated tooth decay that signals ongoing neglect of proper dental attention.

However, by the teen years the progress goes south. In young people aged 12-15-year olds, a surprising 50% have cavities. The worst picture is among 16-19-year olds; of this age group, 67% present with tooth decay.

View of the battlefield

Various theories arise as to why teens do not seem to take their oral health seriously.

  1. Teens are lazy. Can a teen who can barely manage to pick underwear off the floor really be expected to maintain a consistent brushing and flossing regimen (insert sarcastic tone here)?

  2. Teens eat poorly. The nutritious, mom-made meals of childhood give way to pizza and ice cream as soon as after-school hangouts and mall meanderings begin.

  3. Teens won't do what they're told to do. The more often you tell your kids to brush, the less they are likely to do so.

Sound a...retreat?

If your teens' oral health is less than optimal because of apathy, unhealthy snack choices, or outright stubbornness, you may have to sound a retreat. Stop nagging them about brushing and flossing, and simply make sure they get to twice-yearly dental visits at places like Unfortunately, it may take a couple of fillings to impress upon them the good sense of that advice they learned in kindergarten. If yours seem about to take some hits for their poor brushing and flossing habits, it may be difficult to watch them suffer through fillings--or worse--but it may be the call to arms they need. 

Teenagers are challenging, a fact you come face to face with each day. It may seem harsh to allow teens to face the consequences of their actions (or inactions). However, think back to when you were a youth, and try to remember some lessons you had to learn the hard way. They were, perhaps, the ones you learned the best.