By Cathie Ericson
After dropping my son at the bus to summer camp a couple of years ago, I paused by his open bedroom door (all lights on…are any parents surprised?) and noticed something that hadn’t made it into his duffel bag: the rubber bands that were integral to finally getting those braces off. They also didn’t accompany him on our subsequent family vacation or on a three-day stay at his cousin’s. See a theme?
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As summer 2021 begins, we are bound to find our teens once again on the go—making some spending money with a part-time job, running around with friends, or finally hitting the road for a long-overdue summer vacation. And as their routines are upended, it’s easy for dental hygiene to take a vacation, too. Especially as it pertains to orthodontic care. But that can cause trouble down the road, says Dr. Philip D. Bomeli of Solon Orthodontics in Solon, Ohio. Here are some tips to help make sure that your teen’s poor habits don’t come back to bite them down the road.
How to Maintain Dental Hygiene
1. Start with proper oral hygiene.
“Poor oral hygiene and poor treatment compliance often go hand-in-hand. It can lead to some of the biggest problems we experience,” says Dr. Bomeli. It starts with neglecting habits like frequent brushing, which can cause significant negative effects on patients’ teeth, as well as contribute to gum tissues.
In the most severe situations, he says, patients end up with cavities or even permanent whitish marks on their teeth if they do not adequately keep their teeth free of plaque and food debris during treatment.
But that can be hard to remember when your teen’s schedule is upended and they tend to stay up late and sleep in, or they’re at camp and you’re not there to prompt them. Setting a reminder on their phone can help them realize it’s time to brush and floss.
2. Keep up treatment compliance.
When your schedule is a little looser, it’s easy to forget to make an appointment, or your teen might let that rubber band wearing slide as they head out to camp or sleepovers. And let’s not forget the temptation of all those “forbidden” but fun foods, like popcorn and chewy candies, that can lead to broken braces and wires.
In addition to sticking with all suggested orthodontic treatment, Dr. Bomeli also advises patients keep seeing their general dentist at least every six months during active orthodontic treatment.
3. Get those longer appointments out of the way.
Sure, sitting in the orthodontist’s chair is probably not tops on most teens’ list of preferred activities when the mercury rises, but once school starts, it gets even harder to schedule the extended appointments that accompany the start of orthodontic treatment in between tough classes and extracurriculars. If braces are on your radar, it’s ideal to schedule those initial appointments when your schedule is less frantic. But remember there are only so many of those appointments on any given day—and they’re often popular—so schedule them now.
But there’s another reason summer is a great time, says Dr. Bomeli. “Any time you are introducing braces or any other oral appliance, like an expander, there’s an adjustment period. While kids usually feel comfortable within a few days, some still find it helpful to manage it during the summer so they are used to those different feelings when school starts back up.” Ditto for vacation or camp—try to avoid new braces right before you head out.
The bottom line, Dr. Bomeli says, is that prioritizing regular oral hygiene year-round is crucial to prevent potential lifelong problems with your teen’s teeth and gums.
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As for my son, his extra few months in braces were an unwelcome price to pay for “forgetting” those rubber bands throughout the summer. Even though parents don’t need any more reasons to nag, helping them remember their good habits can help protect their beautiful smile—and your investment.