News and views on the latest health issues



Dental age 12 - adult

Publish date: 18/08/2015

Tags: Dental , Teeth , Teenager

12-18 dental health

By the early teen years most of the adult teeth will have come through with the exception of the canine teeth; these come through around age 13 or 14. Usually this isn’t an issue, but for older teenagers, wisdom teeth can sometimes be a problem. 

The basics

  • Regular cleaning - Nothing can replace the impact that thorough and regular cleaning can have on teeth. An electric toothbrush will give a good result and often motivates teenagers to clean more actively. Top tip: Wait at least one hour after eating before cleaning your teeth to allow your natural defences in your saliva to neutralise acids.
  • Mouthwash - Using a fluoride mouthwash is a good idea. Fluoride protects the teeth like the fluoride in tooth paste, preventing cavities. It should ideally be used at a different time from brushing your teeth to get the maximum benefit.
  • Don’t forget to floss! - Learn to floss as this effectively cleans between the teeth. Your hygienist will be pleased to give a demonstration.

Maintenance at the dentist

  • Fluoride varnish - Fluoride varnish can be applied to adult teeth. It involves painting a varnish that contains high levels of fluoride on to the surface of the tooth every six months to prevent decay. It works by strengthening tooth enamel, making it more resistant to decay.
  •  Orthodontics - Sometimes the canine teeth can come through in the wrong place or stay high in the gum. Your dentist will advise if orthodontics (a brace) is needed. If so your child would be referred to an orthodontist in your area or the dental department of your NHS hospital. Funding for orthodontics on the NHS is limited so there’s a strict classification system to assess if the state of the malocclusion (crooked bite) fits the criteria for NHS funding. Your orthodontist will let you know if your child is entitled to this. Orthodontics will align the teeth which can help with self-perception and boost confidence. 
  •  Wisdom teeth - Wisdom teeth come through around the age of 18. Originally nature provided additional molar teeth as the previous ones would wear out. These days, with a softer diet and better oral hygiene, wisdom teeth are erupting into a mouth full of teeth. Sometimes there’s not enough room for the wisdom teeth so they become stuck against the adjacent tooth. This is known as ‘impacted’. Your dentist will advise if the wisdom teeth have enough room to come through fully or if they need to be removed (extracted). Sometimes the dentist will refer the patient to have their wisdom teeth removed in a hospital by an oral maxillo facial surgeon. 
  • Teeth whitening - There are now strict regulations around teeth whitening. In Europe, shop bought kits can’t legally contain more than 0.1% of peroxide. Take care if ordering over the internet as the amount of peroxide can be higher and contain acids. Tooth whitening isn’t recommended for under 18s.  It is illegal for anyone other than a dentist to provide the in-office treatment or the dentist supplied home kits as they have a high peroxide content and can cause burns to the gums if not used correctly. 

Tooth whitening varies greatly in cost and effectiveness from kit to kit and practice to practice. 

  • In-office whitening (costs from £300 to £700 for a treatment) - This is the quickest method and the most expensive, but also lasts the shortest time amount of time. Contains anywhere from 20% to 45% peroxide.
  • Dentist supplied home whitening (£200 to £300 for dental trays and gel) - This is the most common method. The patient can use it as much or as little as they want. The effects last longer because the patient can ‘top up’ the bleaching as the teeth begin to stain again. Contains anywhere from 5% to 15% peroxide.
  • Shop bought home kits  (£5 to £60) - These only give minimal effects (if any) as they can contain no more that 0.1% peroxide.

Lifestyle considerations 

  • Diet - Try to stay away from too many fizzy drinks as they’re full of sugar which is harmful to the enamel of the teeth. The sugar will react with the bacteria in the mouth leading to plaque. If your teenager likes fizzy drinks they should have them with a meal to lessen the impact of a prolonged sugar attack. Snacking on sugary foods can be very harmful to teeth as the sugar attacks the enamel. Try to encourage healthy snacks, such as plain popcorn, sliced fruit and vegetables, cheese and bread sticks.
  • Sports - A mouth guard can be made by your dentist very easily and should be used when playing any contact sport.
  • Smoking - Smoking can cause tooth staining and irritate the gums leading to gum disease and tooth loss. It can also cause mouth cancer. The most common cause of bad breath is smoking. 
  • Alcohol -  Alcohol can cause mouth cancer. Smoking and drinking at the same time increases the risk even more. Alcohol also increases dental decay as there’s a lot of sugar and sometimes acids in alcoholic drinks which can cause erosion of the enamel. 
  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) - The human papilloma virus (HPV) is a major cause of cervical cancer and affects the moist areas of the body such as the mouth. It can be spread by oral sex. Practicing safe sex will reduce your chances of contracting HPV. 
  • Piercings - Dangers from piercings in the mouth include infections, possible swelling of the surrounding tissues, swollen tongue, chipped and broken teeth and difficulty with speech, eating and drinking. Oral hygiene can be difficult to maintain. 
  • Illegal drugs - Cannabis can have the same effect on your teeth as smoking tobacco. Other drugs can cause dry mouth, erosion of enamel, and bad breath. Drugs can also cause people to grind their teeth, causing headaches.
  • Bad breath is usually related to poor oral hygiene. 

Useful links

Caring for teeth

Sign up to our monthly newsletter, Better Health, to receive our latest health and wellbeing updates.

Sign up for Better Health

Ask the expert

Got a question?
Our team of medical experts are ready to help.