Motivating teens to better oral care through the use of dental technology
Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, says the secret to motivating a teen to better oral care is at the end of a long and winding road. Most red-blooded American teens are crazy for technology, and it just so happens that dentistry has lots of technology available. It might take awhile to push the right button, but once you do, you can relax and let the teen take over from there.
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“Why should I care?” a truculent teen asked when I complained about his home care. “I never get cavities.”
It seemed there was no arguing with him. He was 15, didn’t brush his teeth from one week to the next, and yet had never developed a single spot of decay. Here’s the kicker, though. He had recently started orthodontic treatment, and there were already incipient white spot lesions at the anterior cervicals.
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“OK,” I said. “You have no reason to care about cavities right now. What about your smile, though? Do you care about it?”
“I don’t smile,” he groused. “Not since these train tracks.”
“Were the braces your idea?”
“Well … they were sorta my girlfriend’s idea.”
Gotcha! I kept the smile off my face, but inside, I was gloating. Now I knew what to say.
We’ve all had these conversations. Sometimes it’s easy to get a teen to care about cleaning around braces; sometimes it’s nearly impossible.
Here’s a worst-case scenario: there’s no girlfriend/boyfriend to impress; parents are uninterested in or incapable of supervising brushing; there may be issues such as low self-esteem, rebellion, or ADHD. Motivation? Not a chance.
Unless … you can push the magic technology button. Most red-blooded American teens are crazy for technology, and it just so happens that dentistry has lots of technology available. Some of it isn’t even electronic. Here’s a sample list of things that might tickle a noncompliant teen’s fancy.
• Oral irrigation — It’s my go-to adjunct for orthodontics. Hydro Floss and Waterpik offer tabletop units, and Waterpik even markets one especially for kids. It’s been my experience that many teens have never heard of oral irrigation, and are intrigued by the idea of powerwashing their teeth.
• A shower flosser — Several companies, including Oral Breeze, H2Oral Irrigator, and Waterpik, offer oral irrigation units that attach to a shower head for mess-free oral irrigation, which immediately makes the kids more popular with their mothers.
• Power flossers — Oral B, Sonicare and Waterpik market battery-operated flossers. The Oral B Hummingbird is an impossibly cute little unit that comes with interchangeable heads. One is a U-shaped flosser, and the other is a plastic toothpick that works wonderfully with braces. A Sonicare AirFloss delivers a burst of air and water droplets to remove biofilm and food debris. The Waterpik Ultra Water Flosser has 10 pressure settings and six interchangeable tips.
• Livionex Dental Gel – The technology here is microscopic, but impressive. We browbeat teens at every visit about the amount of plaque on their teeth. They have to remove plaque, or else. Surprise them with a new, easier idea. What if there was a product that prevents plaque from forming? Livionex Inc., founded in 2009, does just that. The simplified explanation is this: both bacteria and oral surfaces, say the Livionex scientists, are negatively charged, so they should naturally repel each other. Positive calcium ions in saliva, though, are instrumental in plaque deposition. Activated Edathamil, contained in Livionex Dental Gel, includes an effective chelator that reduces the negative charge enough to repel plaque.
• MI Paste products — The microscopic technology here is a favorite for orthodontic care, because the products contain Recaldent, made up of casein phosphopeptide and amorphous calcium phosphate (CPP-ACP). Recaldent releases vital minerals and stimulates saliva flow to combat acid challenges.
• Xylitol products — Admittedly, there’s no technology at all in this natural sweetener. It’s still a great product to recommend along with orthodontics, because it’s so easy that teens are surprisingly willing to use it. The average teen diet is full of sugars and starches, and using xylitol in gum, mints, candy, toothpaste, mouthwash, and slow-dissolving tablets can help combat that. Many large-scale clinical studies have shown xylitol to have long-lasting dental benefits, and it may reduce the risk of tooth decay.
The secret to motivating a teen to better oral care is at the end of a long and winding road. It might take awhile to push the right button, but once you do, you can relax and let the teen take over from there.
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Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, has worked in pediatric dentistry for 11 years. She is a frequent contributor to dental magazines, works part-time as an indexer, and is the author of two novels and more than a dozen short stories.