A wise person once said: “Once a parent, always a parent, no matter the age of your kids.” To me, this means that your children, at ANY age, are a constant source of concern, joy, worry, heartache and heartwarming happiness. For those of you with children heading into the teen years (or smack dab in the middle of them right now) I would argue parenthood presents no greater challenge. Sure, your toddler might throw a tantrum in your local Walmart but nothing compares to an angry, headstrong teen who also has the ability to hop in a car and drive away -causing you to worry not only about the argument but their driving ability as well! So today, we thought we would talk mental health and teeth. We do so with the standard caution to readers that we’re not medical doctors or indeed a psychiatrist, but we might just be able to point you in the direction of one or the other, if the teeth tell us a story. Let me explain.
We’ve talked about teeth and health on several occasions now but today I want to get a little more specific about the subject of the “terrible teens.” If you have a child who is struggling, the teeth might be the first place it shows and here is why:
- Depression can lead to poor personal hygiene habits. Your teen might stop caring about basic personal grooming, like brushing teeth and you may begin to see a plaque buildup where none existed before. There could be problems with bleeding gums and/or cavities developing along with pain. Analgesics might be disappearing at an alarming rate in your home. Regular visits to the Dentist (and/or Hygienist) will help identify if there have been significant changes and if there is no other apparent reason for tooth decay it could be a sign of something more serious, like depression.
- Anxiety can have the opposite effect. We know of an individual who was brushing upwards of 5, 6, 7 or more times per day and using at least one full sized bottle mouthwash a week. Their desire to keep their teeth clean and general anxiety around cavities, bad breath and oral gum disease actually translated to excessive brushing and mouthwash use. This in turn can be “too much of a good thing” and cause a whole different set of issues with your teens teeth.
- Drug Use. No one wants to think a son or daughter is heading down this road but the fact remains the teen years are often the experimental years. A more serious concern around drug use might start to become self-evident in the teeth and is something a Dentist can spot, possibly even before you do. Certain drugs are more harmful than others for sure but continued abuse of drugs WILL cause dental damage and a visit to the Dentist might help you as a parent to gain awareness about the pervasiveness and extent of any possible drug habit.
- Anorexia and/or Bulimia. Apart from the obvious and likely noticeable issue around weight loss, the teeth too might provide a clue as to whether your child is suffering from one of these conditions. Forcing oneself to vomit, over time, WILL cause damage to the teeth plaque and enamel and is one of the first places a Doctor will look if either illness is suspected. If you believe a problem to exist and your teen is uncooperative about seeking health care, a visit to a Dentist disguised as “routine teeth cleaning” might help to identify if there really is a problem. Conversely, sometimes parents are completely unaware there is an issue until a Dentist identifies one and suggests medical intervention is necessary.
Thankfully, in our current environment, awareness around mental health issues and an atmosphere around discussing them openly is more prominent. It may be that you don’t need to use the “subterfuge” of a dental visit to check in on your child’s mental wellness. On the other hand, one of the reasons we blog regularly is to continue to bring awareness to a variety of issues and topics related to teeth and your overall wellbeing and we want you to know that sometimes a Dentist really is your first line of defense. In our blogs we hope to help create awareness of underlying health issues (mental and physical) that you might not otherwise have known about. The Brinkley Dental Team is a family and we are a family-centered practice, caring for families. Mental health, physical health, dental health – each plays a role in your overall wellness and a team approach that helps get our teens through the teen years successfully is just what we all need. “It takes a village….” said another wise person once. Oh, and by the way, ”don’t forget to be a BFF with your mouth and Brush that SMILE!”