Many dentists recommend chewing sugar-free gum as part of an effective oral hygiene routine. These gums can help reduce plaque and bacteria in your mouth, especially if you chew gums that contain xylitol. When some teens hear this recommendation, they may take the lazy-teen approach and decide that it's easier to chew gum than to brush and floss their teeth. Your dentist may have made it clear that sugar-free gums can help keep your mouth healthy; your teen may have bypassed the help part of that recommendation and decided that chewing gum is all they need to do. How can you get your teen brushing and flossing again?
Tell Them What Gum Can't Do
If your teen has made assumptions about the effectiveness of chewing sugar-free gum, you need to point out the reality of the situation. For example, you may find that the following information helps:
- Point out that chewing gum isn't physically capable of cleaning between the teeth and around the gums as effectively as flossing and brushing. Gum just can't reach the places that a toothbrush or a piece of floss can.
- Talk to your teen about tongue bacteria. It is estimated that more than 50% of oral bacteria are found on the tongue. Gum can't necessarily get this bacteria out of the mouth as effectively as a tooth brush or tongue scraper.
If your teen is not good at listening to you, you may need to try a more practical approach.
Show Them Their Plaque
While chewing sugar-free gum can help remove some oral bacteria, it may not be enough on its own to get enough bacteria out of the mouth to keep your teeth and gums healthy. If your teen is convinced that gum is doing an effective job, try a disclosing tablet challenge.
When you chew a disclosing tablet, the tablet colours plaque on the teeth and around the gum line. Some tablets can use a two-colour system with one colour highlighting new plaque and another highlighting old plaque. Get your teen to use a disclosing tablet and then tell them to chew gum. The chances are the gum won't remove all of the colour stain on their teeth – to do that, they'll need to brush their teeth correctly, allowing you to make the point that gum alone isn't enough to deal with plaque.
If your teen refuses to combine chewing sugar-free gum with brushing and flossing, then you may need to enlist the help of your dentist. Your teen may resent you doing this; however, you need to tell your dentist that your child is skipping brushing and flossing and is solely using sugar-free gum to clean their teeth. A lecture from a dentist may be enough to make the brushing and flossing message hit home if you can't make this happen.