Is extensive computer time leading to bad oral health among teens? Michael Sultan

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  Posted by: Dental Design      18th November 2019

We all remember what it was like to be a teenager. At the end of the school day, all we wanted to do was hang out with our friends and get out to explore the world around us, whether that meant trips to the park, hanging out at the shops or just spending quality time with one another.

Of course, being a teenager today is somewhat different. With the advent of computers and other digital software, people in this age group are just as likely to log online for the evening instead of meeting with their friends in person.

The benefits of the online world

In many ways this makes perfect sense. Today’s teenagers have the whole world at their feet from the comfort of their laptop or computer. There are thousands of things to do online which not only allow them to socialise with their friends, but also do so in a way that can be more exciting than anything the real world can provide. For example, there are now video games that allow hundreds of people to play in vast online worlds, and these activities can quickly become a time-consuming hobby that leads to a huge increase in time spent staring at a screen.

That’s not even to mention one of the more prevalent uses of our time – social media. Facebook, Twitter and social networking sites such as Tumblr are a black hole of information, games, quizzes and other activities that fast glue people to their screens. Another huge draw of logging in to a computer is that regardless of your interests, passions, sexuality or spheres of knowledge, there is always going to be likeminded individuals to speak to, even if these people are from across the globe and there is very little chance of meeting them in person. This can provide a necessary and life-affirming escape for teenagers who are stressed in real life.

The downsides to digital

Of course, there are dangers associated with teenagers spending lots of time online in regards to safety etc., but what I want to focus on is the effect too much screen time is having on oral health. According to figures published by the Oral Health Foundation, three hours of computer use a day is enough to put teenagers at risk of poor oral health.[i] Considering the average teenager can spend as much as nine hours in front of screens in one day, this shows that there is cause for alarm.[ii]

The findings indicate that teenage boys, in particular, are in more danger of bad oral health as a consequence of computer use. Those who excessively spent time online were found to have twice-daily tooth brushing rates of below 50%. I’ll refrain from making an obvious joke here, but the fact that so many teenage boys are spending extensive time in front of the computer and that this can so drastically impact their oral health is something that professionals need to be conscious of.

Another thing brought to attention from this article was that those who do use computers excessively are also more likely to consume a larger volume of sugary drinks and snacks. Typically, snacking when playing videogames or browsing the net means reaching for something that requires no time away from the screen. This inevitably ends in consumption of crisps and other unhealthy snacks that require no cooking.

Furthermore, energy drinks are a popular choice for people who game online, and these have long been known to have alarming amounts of sugar in them. In fact, some of the most popular energy drinks can contain as much as 16 teaspoons of sugar in just 500ml.[iii] Whilst these drinks are now illegal to sell to under 16s, that doesn’t mean that teenagers over this age will stop drinking them, and we all know that even those younger than this age will be able to access these drinks through their parents or older friends buying them for them.

Remind them of the risks

As such, dental professionals should speak to teenagers about their online habits, especially if they exhibit large instances of decay. By reminding them that it is essential to brush twice daily with a fluoride-based toothpaste, we can help prevent bad habits for later life, as well as the more intrusive and expensive treatment this may lead to.

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[i] Oral Health Foundation. Excessive Computer Use Linked to Poor Oral Health in Teenagers. Link: [Last accessed July 19].

[ii] Quartz. Even Teens are Worried They Spend Too Much Time on Their Phones. Link: [Last accessed July 19].

[iii] The Sun. WAR ON SUGAR The Energy Drinks that Contain up to 16 TEASPOONS of Sugar – as Campaigners Call for a Ban on Them Being Sold to Under 16s. Link: [ Last accessed July 19].

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