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Children’s dental problems can lead to bullying

Dentists are used to correcting teeth that are in some way misshapen, discoloured or otherwise deemed ‘unattractive’. This is especially true for young people, who are the most typical recipients of this type of dental care. However, what may be forgotten is how much schoolchildren and teenagers are affected by the shape of their teeth.

A recent study has shown a very clear link between children with ‘unattractive’ teeth and bullying. Published in the American Journal of Orthodontics and Dentofacial Orthopedics, the study looked at “the contribution of general physical and dentofacial features” to bullying.

It was found that teeth were the most common physical feature targeted by bullies in the sample of the 920 students in the study. In total, 50 per cent of children said their teeth were the main things focused on by bullies, followed by their strength, weight and height.

The most common feature of the children’s teeth that was singled out by bullies was “spacing between teeth or missing teeth”, followed by “shape or colour of teeth”. Bullying is obviously a cause of great distress to children, so it is no surprise that many choose to have their teeth corrected by dentists.

Gayle Glenn, president of the American Association of Orthodontists, said: “A person’s smile is very important in communication and interpersonal relations. Teeth are very noticeable, so when they are unsightly or poorly aligned, this can be an easy target for teasing or bullying. Parents will often tell us that their child is being ‘teased’ about the appearance of his/her teeth.”

What this means to dentists is that professionals need to bear in mind the sensitivity that many children feel about the state of their teeth. This can sometimes lead to them being eager for their dentist to correct whatever they feel is wrong with their mouth, however it can also cause them to withdraw and not seek help.

It might be worthwhile to help younger patients understand that they can ask you about their teeth, and that there are a great many treatments available to them. They may have resigned themselves to thinking that there is nothing you can do about their teeth.

Let your patients know what options are available to them with dental posters or canvases. Displaying these around your practice can have all kinds of effects on your patients, from informing them of the treatments available to them to simply making them feel that they are able to ask you about their dental care without being afraid.

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