Periodontitis (gum disease) is a multifactorial inflammatory disease that destroys teeth-supporting structures such as gum tissue and the jaw bone if left untreated. Although we often think of periodontal disease as a condition that only impacts grown-ups, in fact, children and teenagers can suffer from gum disease as well. There are a number of reasons why an adolescent might develop gum disease.
Adolescents going through puberty experience an influx of hormones. Elevated hormone levels cause an increase in blood flow and can heighten the gum tissue’s reaction to accumulated dental plaque. In practical terms, puberty may cause increased gum sensitivity and inflammation. Combined with poor oral hygiene habits, children going through puberty face an increased risk for developing gum disease.
Kids with braces often have a difficult time maintaining a consistent oral hygiene regimen. Flossing and thorough tooth brushing presents a greater challenge, and many children avoid flossing, and sometimes even brushing, as much as possible.
However, without regularly removing the bacteria and debris around and between the teeth, plaque will accumulate quickly. Plaque ultimately hardens into calculus (calcified plaque). Calculus irritates gum tissue, causes bleeding, and accelerates gingival recession.
Poor nutrition damages children’s gum health in a number of ways. First, many adolescents tend to consume an inadvisable amount of sugary, sticky snacks and beverages specifically marketed towards children. Such refreshments include sugary cereals, fruit juices, and even yogurt. Although many of these products may be marketed as “healthy,” they are frequently loaded with sugars and high fructose corn syrup. Such food and drink coat the teeth with a bacterial biofilm that can irritate the gum tissue if not regularly removed.
Second, poor nutrition weakens the immune system as a whole and can cause inflammation. A child whose diet consists of unhealthy, sugary substances will have a harder time fighting off gingival inflammation than one whose diet consists of healthful, less sugary nutrition.
Genetics may also help determine whether a child faces a greater risk of developing periodontitis. Some individuals are more genetically susceptible to gum disease. For instance, gum disease may present more severely in children whose cells produce the interleukin-1 genotype, which is an inherited cytokine.
If you notice that your child’s gums appear swollen, inflamed, or tender, or that the gums bleed upon flossing or brushing, your child might be experiencing the early stages of periodontal disease. It is crucial to ensure that children practice consistent oral hygiene habits at home, including brushing after every meal and before bed and flossing daily to prevent the buildup of bacterial plaque. If the symptoms persist despite a regular, thorough oral hygiene regimen, this could be a sign that your child is suffering from periodontal disease, and it may be time to seek the help of an oral health professional.
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