How to Spot Gum Disease in Kids and Teens
While it’s true that periodontal disease is largely a threat to adults, gingivitis, a mild form of periodontal disease, is often found in kids and teens. In fact, more than half of teens have some form of gum disease, according to a recent estimate.
Which is why it’s important as a parent to be aware of the risk factors and know how to spot the warning signs in your child. Taking your own oral hygiene seriously is also a good idea. It’ll go a long way toward encouraging the same behavior in your kids. We’ll unpack all of that here.
Gum Disease in Kids: Toddlers and bleeding gums
Toddlers’ gums can bleed from brushing for several reasons, but the build-up of plaque is one of the most common. The bacteria in their mouths feasts on the sugar in their foods and forms plaque. In time, that plaque can become tartar and lead to tooth decay and inflamed gums that bleed from brushing.
The problem’s usually easily remedied as long as it’s caught and treated early on. Get into the habit of brushing your toddler’s teeth in the morning and at night, as well as right after any sugary or starchy snacks. (You should help with the brushing until they gain the coordination to do it themselves around seven or eight.) For toddlers two and under, use the equivalent amount of a grain of rice in toothpaste. For those between three and five, keep it to a pea-size amount.
Schedule your toddler’s first dental visit around their second birthday. Most of their teeth will have grown in by then. That first visit will mostly be about familiarizing them with the process, but it’ll also give your dentist an opportunity to spot any less-obvious issues at their onset.
Changing your toddler’s diet will also improve their oral health. You don’t need to avoid juice, candy, pretzels, crackers, and pasta altogether—though, more power to you if you can. Just try to make them occasional treats.
Gum Disease in Kids: Teens and gum disease
Do you remember your teenage years? Some days, most days, it felt like your own body was conspiring against you, right? That’s actually not too far from the truth.
Hormonal changes in teens can put them at risk for periodontal disease. In other words, simply by entering puberty they become more susceptible. During puberty, an increased level of progesterone or estrogen can spur a surge in blood circulation to the gums. In turn, the gums may become more sensitive to irritants, including food particles and plaque, causing them to swell, turn red, and feel tender.
That should subside as your teen gets older as long as they’re following a good oral hygiene regimen. But puberty’s not the only risk factor for developing gum disease. They may inherit the tendency from you and your partner. Braces also make it more difficult to stave off plaque, so cleanings by a dentist may need to be done more frequently than biannually during that period.
And it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise (unless you skipped over the toddler segment) that a poor diet won’t help matters. We’re all pretty well-versed on the evils of sugar by now, but starchy foods, like fries, are trouble, too. They feed the acids that eat away at tooth enamel.
Add some lousy sleep habits and an abundance of stress—it comes from all directions at that age—and it’ll leave your teen more vulnerable to any kind of infection, including gum disease.
If they tell you their gums have been bleeding when they brush or floss, take them seriously and schedule an appointment with their dentist. But chances are, it won’t be that easy. So just try to keep a watchful eye from a safe distance.
You can’t control everything your teen eats any more than you can control what they worry about. Try to make the most of the moments when you do have some influence on them. Stock the fridge and pantry with healthy options. And lead by example.
Gum Disease in Kids: The role model
It may be way more obvious with a toddler than it is with a teen, but you are your child’s leading role model. They’re picking up on so much of what you’re doing—even when they’re pretending like they’re not.
So, if you aren’t already, get into the habit of brushing and flossing at least twice a day. And try to do it in front of your child. Or at least make them aware that you’re doing it.
Just as importantly, take your time doing it. Maybe even bone up on these brushing and flossing tips. Who knows? You could learn something. A lot of us picked up bad habits at an early age because our parents never showed us the right ways. Right the ship with your child.
And schedule regular dental visits and comprehensive periodontal evaluations. Early diagnosis ensures the greatest chance for successful treatment at all ages.