Raising adolescents (even under the best of circumstances) can be difficult. So, the results of a new study out of Brazil, published in December 2018, may come as no surprise.
Parents, teachers, community advocates, social scientists, and health care professionals have bemoaned the influence of a “bad crowd” on teens since the dawn of time. However, science relies on data, not “common sense” or “gut feelings”.
Well, now we have more data to add to the pile. This new study provides additional confirmation: negative peer influence in one aspect of life can spill over into other areas, potentially affecting multiple measures of a young person’s health and quality of life, including maintaining their oral health.
The study tracked 474 adolescents who presented for initial dental exams. After 18 months, 325 were reassessed and were asked specific, granular questions about their socioeconomic conditions, as well as their use of alcohol and illicit (nonprescribed/recreational) drugs. In the final analysis, which was multidimensional and analyzed factors including family income, housing, parental education, and employment status, the findings were clear: the teens who consumed alcohol and socialized with friends who used illicit drugs had a more difficult time adhering to dental treatment.
While this is a single study from a nation steeped in extraordinary levels of poverty, its findings are relevant for dental professionals who work with pediatric and adolescent patients in economically vulnerable, at-risk populations. The discussion surrounding multifactorial socioeconomic influences on adolescent adherence is especially robust.
So, what are the implications for dentists and hygienists? Talk to teens and talk to parents about high-risk behaviors as younger patients approach the teen years. Consider strengthening referral relationships with local adolescent mental health and substance abuse professionals and don’t hesitate to refer if you suspect a teen is heading in the wrong direction. It’s not just their oral health on the line. It’s the rest of their lives.