How to Prevent Gingivitis in Adolescence

Gingivitis in adolescence, or inflammation of the gums, is a common problem during this stage. Find out how to prevent it.
How to Prevent Gingivitis in Adolescence

Last update: 18 June, 2022

Swollen, red, and bleeding gums aren’t problems that are exclusive to adults. On the contrary, gingivitis in adolescence and childhood can also occur.

Poor oral hygiene and the accumulation of bacterial plaque act as irritants to the gingival tissue and trigger inflammation. But the endocrine, physical, and behavioral changes of puberty also affect oral health.

The good news is that if some local factors are controlled, gingivitis in adolescence can be prevented. Read on to find out what you can do to avoid it.

What is gingivitis?

Gingivitis is inflammation of the gums. When it develops, the gum tissue becomes enlarged, bright red, painful, and bleeds during brushing or at the slightest touch. Bad breath and bacterial plaque and tartar deposits on the teeth complete the picture.

When such inflammation is left untreated, it can progress to periodontal disease. This situation isn’t as common in young people, but it is a possibility. Therefore, it’s crucial to prevent gingivitis in adolescence and treat it immediately if it develops.

In periodontitis, there’s deep inflammation (and infection) that affects the supporting tissues of the teeth. The bone is destroyed and the periodontium deteriorates, compromising tooth support. Thus, teeth move and are even lost.

Gingivitis in adolescence

Puberty is a period of many changes, both physical and emotional. Increased sex hormones and body modifications characterize this stage. But new experiences and rebellious behaviors add to this transformation.

Internally, steroid hormones increase and this situation temporarily affects the health of the gums. For example, they favor gingival enlargement and inflammation, even when there’s a minimal amount of bacteria in the mouth.

There are also other factors that influence gingival health, such as those resulting from the new habits and behaviors of young people.

Poor oral hygiene leads to the accumulation of bacteria and food debris on teeth and gums. This forms bacterial plaque which, when not removed, calcifies with the minerals in the mouth and forms tartar. This irritates the gums and inflames them.

Changes in diet and unhealthy food choices are quite common among adolescents. But opting for soft drinks, sweets, and ultra-processed foods favors bacterial proliferation.

Cavities, dental crowding, dental malpositions, and orthodontic appliances also do their part, as they retain bacterial plaque in the mouth and this complicates gingival health. The eruption of the last permanent teeth or mouth breathing are also predisposing factors for gingivitis.

Finally, smoking or mouth piercings are common social behaviors at this stage, but potentially harmful to oral tissues.

A teen lighting a cigarette at his desk.
Some typical habits of adolescents, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or abusing junk food, can cause great damage to their oral health.

Preventing gingivitis in adolescence

Although it’s true that the hormonal changes that occur during puberty can’t be avoided, it’s possible to act on the external factors associated with the genesis of the problem.

Ceasing to be a child is a milestone that promotes the search for independence and differentiation from the adults of reference. Likewise, changes in interests, lack of motivation for personal hygiene, and irresponsibility in oral care are typical of this stage of change.

Parents play an important role in accompanying their children, especially during adolescence. Therefore, they should look for strategies that allow them to remain present, but give them space and motivate them to take care of their oral health.

Here are some actions that help prevent gingivitis in adolescence:

1. Maintain proper oral hygiene

Proper oral hygiene is key to preventing any oral disease. The more controlled the bacterial proliferation is, the lower the chances of developing gingival tissue inflammation.

For this, it’s important that adolescents brush their teeth and gums properly, at least twice a day. They should try to reach all sides of each element present in the mouth and dedicate at least 2 minutes to this cleaning.

Brushing should be done with fluoride toothpaste and should also include tongue hygiene. In addition, it’s recommended that youngsters use dental floss once a day to remove the dirt that accumulates between the teeth. The dentist may even suggest the use of a special mouthwash to complete the hygiene routine.

If adolescents aren’t interested in cleaning their mouths, parents can remind them of the risks to which they’re exposed if they don’t take care of their teeth. Most of the teeth in their mouths are permanent, so the consequences of their current actions will have an impact on their oral health for the rest of their lives.

Interest in their physical appearance and peer acceptance is another argument that parents can use to motivate their children to take more care of their oral hygiene. Reflecting on the social benefits of having a healthy and attractive smile or the detriments of suffering from bad breath and stained teeth is a good strategy.

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2. Pay attention to diet

Adolescence brings the first outings alone and the possibility of choosing what to eat outside the home. The selection of a healthy menu is essential to prevent gingivitis and other oral diseases typical of adolescence.

In fact, at this stage, there’s a new growth spurt and children need a higher nutritional intake than they did years ago. Thus, the intake of calcium, proteins, minerals, and vitamins should be sufficient in these key years.

It’s best to avoid snacks, sweets, soft drinks, and ultra-processed foods. They not only don’t provide the nutrients needed but also predispose children to suffer several diseases.

It’s important to reflect with young people about the benefits and negative consequences of the consumption of certain foods. Even, look for other strategies that allow them to take care of their mouth in case they choose those foods, such as brushing their teeth when they finish.

At the same time, it’s beneficial to have healthier foods and preparations at home and for there to be few industrialized products available in the cupboard. Thus, when the young person is at home, they’ll be able to choose foods that are good for them.

Adolescence is a time of experimentation with new situations and sensations. The approval of their peers and the search for belonging in social groups can lead them to choose some options that threaten their health.

Smoking is one of the most common examples and several adolescents start this habit at this time. This has negative consequences for overall health, including the mouth.

Avoiding smoking is essential to prevent gingivitis in adolescence. Reflecting with young people on how harmful this habit is, its harmful effects on the whole body, and the difficulty of quitting an addiction can help them make healthy choices.

Motivated by fashion or the search for their own style, young people may pierce their tongues and lips or put jewelry in their teeth. Piercing inside the mouth is another action that can predispose them to gingivitis.

Visiting the dentist and knowing the damage these accessories do to the mouth helps make more conscious choices. Finding other less harmful and more hygienic places on the body to wear piercings is also a good strategy to prevent gingivitis.

During puberty and early childbearing years, many adolescent women begin using birth control pills. Continued use of these medications could impact gingival health. Therefore, it’s key that the medication is prescribed by a gynecologist who can monitor the body’s response to the drug. They can even suggest alternatives in case of undesired effects.

Extreme oral hygiene measures and maintaining low levels of bacterial plaque also help prevent gingivitis if contraceptives are used.

A teenage girl visiting the dentist.
Regular visits to the dentist allow for the early detection and treatment of any condition before it develops into a major complication.

4. Visit the dentist regularly

Regular dental checkups, every six months, are a key action to prevent gingivitis in adolescence. This way, the professional can diagnose and treat any mouth problem in time and avoid complications.

In addition, periodically, the dentist performs professional cleanings to remove plaque, tartar, and stains that brushing fails to remove and thus promotes the health of the gums. Placing fluoride or sealants on new molars are also strategies that can be implemented to keep the mouth healthy.

The dentist informs, teaches, motivates, and educates the adolescent about the importance of taking care of their mouth and tips on how to do so. And when the young person ignores the advice of their parents, the dentist can become a voice that the teenager chooses to listen to.

Accompany your child to prevent gingivitis in adolescence

Adolescence can be a very difficult time for some young people and also for their parents. And the appearance of diseases due to the changes that occur at this time is always a possible addition.

It should be understood that the responsible presence of parents is key to preventing many common mouth diseases of adolescence. Communication and respectful accompaniment are effective to take care of these children who will soon become adults.

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