Puberty is a complex time that brings with it many changes to adolescent boys and girls. In boys, pubertytypically begins between the ages of 11-12, while girls usually start at around 10-11. Overall, it can take 5-6 years to complete puberty, during which time children’s reproductive organs come to sexual maturity. Hormone levels increase, bodies and voices change, sexual feelings begin to intrude, and with them, an overall increased self-consciousness about appearance and self-image. Dental health can also be affected.
Hormone Changes in Puberty
Girls in particular can experience an increase of certain types of dental issues as the hormone balance of their bodies begins to shift. The onset of menstruation brings with it an increase of certain types of hormones that can encourage the growth of certain bacteria. Many girls and some boys in puberty will experience symptoms of gingival bleeding and gum sensitivity.
In fact, many women continue to experience what is termed menstruation gingivitis just before their menstrual periods begin. Symptoms can include red, swollen and tender gums, with or without bleeding, as well as mouth sores. Usually the symptoms disappear once their period begins, but improper oral care can certainly worsen these symptoms.
Risk of More Serious Dental Conditions
Gingivitis, if left unchecked, can progress into a more serious gum infection called periodontitis, or periodontal disease. In periodontal disease, the infection goes deep into the tooth, the gums and the bones surrounding the teeth. Again, it can be diagnosed and treated effectively if caught early, but it’s important to make sure that symptoms are not ignored.
Orthodontic Concerns in Puberty
As children develop and their adult teeth begin to grow in, they can experience changes in the shape of their bite and the appearance of the mouth. By the time they begin puberty, most of their adult teeth have already come in, at least the ones in the front of their mouth that are visible to other people. If it has been determined that their teeth have not come in properly, or there is some problem with the shape of the child’s bite, then this is the time that orthodontic treatment would typically begin.
One of the chief concerns for a child with braces is the need to brush very carefully. With the additional attachments to the teeth, there are many more little places for bits of food to lodge and dental caries to develop. Brushing can be especially difficult and take longer than many adolescents will be inclined to spend on the task. However, it is important to be extra vigilant during this time, so it’s important to make regular appointments every five to six months for professional cleanings and check-ups.
Managing the Overall Impact of Puberty on Dental Health
Perhaps most difficult to quantify is the emotional impact of puberty on the behaviour of adolescents. Many kids become very self-conscious of themselves during this dynamic period of change. They may be experiencing increased peer pressure to be “cool”and engage in behaviours that may not be in their best interest, such as sexual activity, drugs or sex. All of these factors can have a negative impact on a child’s focus on good dental care.
However, there is an opportunity here to make a positive impact on your child’s self-image by reinforcing healthy practices of good self-care. Along with the concern about acne and changing bodies, good oral care contains a great set of practices that can contribute to positive self-esteem and overall good health.
Brushing and flossing regularly will not only prevent the development of cavities and gum disease, but it will help to maintain good breath and a pleasant appearance. Eating well will also help to prevent dental caries, even as it contributes to overall good energy and health. The maintenance of daily oral care routines also provides a framework for personal discipline and pride. At a time when so much about a young person’s life seems to be in flux, it is great for them to have a set of practices that give them a measure of control over certain very specific aspects of their health and their bodies.