How to teach adolescents the importance of good oral hygiene


Your approach with this age group is crucial to building a foundation of oral hygiene habits.

How well do you approach adolescents or teenagers on ways to improve their oral hygiene? The right approach is crucial so that they have the foundation to make their teeth outlast them. You must also factor in that this group has no more baby teeth, may be in braces, and is attending either middle or high school, which greatly influences their oral habits.

I will never forget giving oral hygiene instruction to a 12-year-old boy. He had a lot of heavy plaque and moderate generalized bleeding. His appointment was my first one in the morning, so I figured he’d be up to the challenge for a brushing demo. Little did I know how much of an actual challenge it’d become. In this office, my operatory had a sink and a mirror, so I could coach him through his oral hygiene habits. To my shock, in less than 30 seconds into him brushing, he fainted in my arms. I had no idea what to do, but luckily the doctor had just passed my room with his assistant, and I yelled for him to come help me with my emergency.

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Together, we moved the patient to the dental chair, which was fortunately a few feet away, and the assistant went to get the kid’s dad, who was in the waiting room. He quickly walked back. Luckily, the boy was stable, and the father explained how his son had been up late last night and hadn’t had breakfast yet. I quickly replied, “No more morning appointments for him!” We all chuckled. Together, I gave the father and son an overview of the specific areas the boy needed to improve on and rescheduled his follow-up appointment to polish and check the status of his gingivitis.

All patients deserve special attention, but ortho patients have had a greater financial value put forth. I always tell younger ortho patients that, as parents, we could have gone to Hawaii with the price your braces cost us. Kids always nod, because they understand the value and cost of a family vacation like that, and when they are reluctant to brush before bed, they will always remember those words. I also recommend to their parents to get them an electric toothbrush, Sonicare being my favorite. I just love their 2-minute timer and always remind patients they are not done until the timer goes off. Once in the waiting room with their parents, I have them repeat how long they will brush from now on and how their parents could’ve gone to Hawaii with what was paid for their braces. Parents have a good laugh and are always happy I made a positive impact on their child’s oral health. During their 3- to 4- month recalls, these patients never fail to come back a lot cleaner, happier and healthier.

Ortho or not, the lives of adolescents are constantly changing, whether it’s going through puberty or facing peer pressure. With boys who take care of their teeth and have fresh breath, I usually ask if they have a girlfriend. Most of the time, they reply they do and tell me about her. To boys, girls are important, because if they are ever told by them that they have bad breath, her opinion of them will usually carry more weight than the opinion of a parent. As you know, boys like pretty girls and want to remain popular amongt them. With girls it’s different, because their looks are important to themselves first. Each day they are surrounded by other girls constantly checking their hair and makeup. Girls want to fit in, and if their girlfriends notice a hint of halitosis, they will be the first to tell her. When you have a young girl in your chair with bad oral hygiene, tell her she is far too pretty to have bad oral hygiene and instruct how she can improve it. Flattery always works better than tearing down or belittling a patient over gingivitis or decay.

More from the author: 5 surprising things your patients don't know about their dental visit

Your approach with any age group is crucial to building a foundation of oral hygiene habits that will set their teeth on a track to outlast them. Be kind and informative so that they’ll want to have a bright smile and fresh breath. And remember, if your approach is not made important to them, then it won’t matter.

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