How to Talk to Your Teen
About Dental Hygiene

See also: Coping with Teenagers

Teenagers usually have busy lives. Between school, hanging out with friends, sports and other extracurricular activities, it’s not surprising that they forget to take care of their dental hygiene.

Teens are also more likely to pick up habits that harm their teeth, such as drinking too many sugary sports drinks or eating unhealthy foods. These poor habits can often result in serious teeth and gum conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 13% of teens have one untreated cavity that may lead to infection if not remedied.

You should openly speak to your teen about oral health. Here are some valuable tips for helping them practice better dental hygiene and develop lifelong habits.

Set Rules for Dental Care

Perhaps you were hoping that you’d leave conversations about teeth brushing behind as your kids got older, but teens benefit from rules and structure, as well. If your child isn’t keeping up with good oral hygiene, discuss the habits you’d like for them to form and the consequences for not doing so.

Consistency is key when it comes to dental care. The American Dental Association advises brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time. Mention how crucial it is to brush their teeth when they first wake up and before they go to bed. Regular brushing helps prevent cavities and keeps them from having bad breath and infected gums.

Suggest that they listen to their favorite song to ensure they spend the right amount of time brushing their teeth. Most songs play for a minimum of two minutes. You can also set them up with a countdown timer on their phone.

If your teenager is one of the many that are addicted to their screens, consider downloading an interactive dental hygiene app to make their teeth-brushing experience more enjoyable.

Some teens may benefit from a reward system when implementing a dental care routine, such as a later curfew or more time playing video games. Remember, sometimes cavities still occur even when your teen tries very hard to take care of their teeth. Instead, reward them for following through on the rules you’ve set.

Work With Your Spouse on Messaging

Teens can be somewhat defiant when it comes to listening to their parents. That is why your messaging regarding your teen’s dental hygiene will come across stronger if your spouse, co-parent or ex-partner are on board. Discuss how you are trying to enforce better oral care practices and make sure you align your feelings, messaging and approach with theirs.

Teens may fair better with the support from both parents when it comes to oral health. They may be more inclined to sit down and discuss their dental hygiene with each of you individually or simultaneously. Additionally, you can make an equal effort to monitor your teen’s teeth brushing and eating habits.

Do your part by ensuring they have everything they need right in front of them. Leave your teen’s toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash and dental floss on their bathroom counter so they see it. Allowing them to pick out their own toothbrush color and a toothpaste flavor they like is another way to empower your teen and get them on board with dental hygiene.

When all else fails, teens tend to be a bit more conscious about their appearance. Remind them that they can wind up with rotting teeth by not prioritizing their oral health, which isn't exactly an attractive look.

Limit Sugary Snacks and Drinks

Did you know that energy drinks, juices and soda can lead to tooth decay? Many teenagers drink sugary sports drinks and munch on unhealthy foods, so establishing healthy eating habits early can promote better dental hygiene.

However, it’s not just Red Bull and candy that negatively impact your child’s oral health. Chips, pretzels and other snacks can stick to their teeth and easily create plaque buildup. To prevent this, be mindful of reading food labels to see how much sugar something contains and make sure your teen starts doing the same.

Promoting healthier eating habits is especially important for teens who wear retainers or have braces. Before eating, your teen should always remove their retainer to prevent damage to the wires, and teens who wear permanent retainers should avoid hard or chewy foods altogether.

You can do many things to inspire healthier eating habits in and outside of your home. Keep fruits and vegetable snacks on hand, remind your teen to floss or brush after meals, and encourage them to drink more water to get rid of food debris throughout the day.

Encourage Your Teen to Be a Role Model

Studies have shown that teenagers are important role models for their younger siblings. While many younger children may look up to celebrities, athletes and other entertainers, they also admire family members, including their siblings.

It’s natural for young children to observe and emulate individuals older than them. When discussing dental hygiene with your teen, ask them to be a role model to your other kids. They may not be interested in doing this, but it’s often the reality of most family dynamics.

It may be a good idea for your teen and younger child to pair up to brush their teeth together in the morning and evening. Kids will be able to learn dental hygiene from their older siblings, and your teen can teach them how to brush correctly and floss, as well.

Schedule Regular Appointments for Dental Care

Dentists can identify teeth and gum conditions that can hinder your teen’s development. That is why routine checkups are essential for preventive care and detecting cavities before they become a bigger problem.

Parents should schedule dental appointments biannually for their kids after the first baby tooth appears. During their teeth cleaning, you and your teen can discuss any concerns regarding dental hygiene and healthy oral care habits with their dentist.

For example, some younger teens may feel discomfort when brushing. This could be because their teeth are still growing. Your child's dentist may recommend what type of toothbrush and toothpaste your teen should use to alleviate some of their sensitivity.

Dental Hygiene for Better Health

Discussing dental hygiene with your teen and establishing good oral care habits early on helps set them up for a lifetime of better health. Show your child support and let them know you are aware of their efforts in improving their routine.

About the Author

Ava Roman (she/her) is the Managing Editor of Revivalist, a women’s lifestyle magazine that empowers women to live their most authentic life. When Ava is not writing you'll find her in a yoga class, advocating for body positivity, whipping up something delicious in the kitchen, or smashing the patriarchy.