Life

Ask the Dentist: Computer use might be damaging your teen's oral hygiene

Lucy Stock, dentist at Gentle Dental Care in Belfast, reveals that teens who spend more time on computers are significantly more likely to neglect their oral health

Teens who frequently use computers are more likely to neglect their teeth
Teens who frequently use computers are more likely to neglect their teeth Teens who frequently use computers are more likely to neglect their teeth

THREE hours of computer use each day is enough to put a teenager at risk of poor oral health, a new study has revealed.

An examination of more than 1,500 18-year-olds showed those who spend more time on computers are significantly more likely to neglect their oral health. Researchers found those that spent longer on a computer were less likely to brush their teeth, floss and visit the dentist. The results are particularly worrying for boys, where twice-daily brushing dropped below 50 per cent for those with excessive computer use.

Further findings discovered that youngsters with excessive computer use are up to 25 per cent more likely to suffer from bleeding gums, and almost twice as likely to be absent from school because of dental pain.

In one year in Northern Ireland, a total of 22,699 teeth were extracted under general anaesthetic from 5,122 under-18s. Research by the British Dental Association Northern Ireland estimates the cost to the health service of removing the teeth was £9,347,650.

Dr Nigel Carter OBE, Chief Executive of the Oral Health Foundation, said, "There is growing evidence to suggest that computer use is linked with a number of health problems for teenagers. Much of the attention in the past has focussed on its relationships with obesity, smoking, drinking and changes in behaviour.

"However, we are now seeing signs that it could affect a person's oral health as well. There is an urgent need for more education; both on the consequences of excessive computer use, and the benefits of maintaining good oral hygiene. These need to be communicated to children and families before it begins to negatively affect their health and wellbeing."

Further findings from the study revealed the longer teenagers spend on a computer, the more sugar they consume. The amount and frequency of fizzy drinks, juices with added sugar and snacking all increased for those with more than three hours of computer time a day.

These adolescents were also more likely to skip breakfast and eat less fruit and vegetables. The teenage years can be challenging times, however there is a lot parents and carers can do to protect teens from the slow insidious poisoning of a sugar-laden diet.

Help them by considering your weekly shopping and stocking up with healthy foods and snacks, then place them within easy reach. Avoid buying in fizzy drinks and cordials that also rot their teeth – try getting them into the habit of drinking water most of the time.

Spring clean the kitchen and banish that biscuit tin from the home. Electric toothbrushes are especially useful for teens as when they do brush, it needs to be as effective as possible.