Teeth whitening is absolutely everywhere in our culture. Teens and younger children see the perfect teeth on their favorite celebrities and other role models, along with ads for a raft of over the counter whitening products, and sometimes become concerned about the color of their teeth as permanent teeth come in. It’s no wonder that children and teens are asking to have their teeth whitened. While whitening teeth for children and teens isn’t necessarily a flat-out no, we definitely recommend a conservative approach. Here’s some good info to help parents make informed decisions about teeth whitening for young people.
At What Age Is It Okay to Whiten My Child’s Teeth?
Unless there are extenuating circumstances, both the American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend waiting until age 14 or 15 when all of the permanent teeth are in for whitening treatments. Baby teeth have thinner enamel than adult teeth which could lead to increased sensitivity and uneven color.
What Are Some Reasons To Consider Whitening at a Younger Age?
In some cases, children have circumstances that would lead us to consider whitening at an earlier age. For example, a child may have severe discoloration that is leading to teasing or social anxiety. Some children may be more susceptible to staining from sodas or other drinks, or braces may leave discoloration when they’re removed. In other cases, an injury illness may cause a tooth discoloration that leaves a child feeling self-conscious. In a case like this, we’d discuss options with parents and children to decide what approach is best.
What Does Teeth Whitening Involve?
Both professional and over the counter whitening products generally use hydrogen peroxide bleaching agents. The difference is usually in the concentration level, with professional products for adults containing higher levels of peroxide. Professional treatments can be done in the dentist’s office or at home using trays custom-fitted to your teeth. Over the counter gels and strips usually use a lower dose of hydrogen peroxide. They are applied by the consumer and take longer to work than professional treatments.
Will Teeth Whitening Make My Child’s Teeth More Sensitive?
Both the ADA and AAPD agree that more research needs to be done on the longer term impacts of teeth whitening in children. However, what we do know is that if used improperly, the peroxide bleach used in teeth whitening can damage enamel and increase tooth sensitivity. According to the AAPD, there’s some evidence that thinner dentin and more permeable enamel in children could make it more likely that the tooth pulp would be exposed to peroxide. There is also a risk of gum irritation, especially with at-home treatments, if peroxide comes in contact with the sensitive tissue around the teeth.
What Method Should I Use To Whiten My Child’s Teeth?
If you and your pediatric dentist decide that whitening is the best approach, we recommend a custom-fitted tray rather than an over the counter product for teeth whitening for children and adolescents. This can be done in office or at home if carefully supervised by parents (even for teens). We tend to use a small amount of whitening solution at a lower peroxide concentration that an adult dentist. In either case, the focus is on proper use and safety. We don’t recommend giving children or teens unsupervised access to over the counter whitening strips.
If your young child has concerns about the whiteness of their teeth or is experiencing peer pressure, we recommend shifting the focus to keeping teeth healthy and strong. Parents can also suggest safe natural remedies or child-safe whitening toothpaste to give children a sense of control.
Teeth Whitening and Children: Talk to Your Pediatric Dentist
The bottom line is that whitening for young people is safe under certain circumstances, but it’s best to be conservative and very safety-conscious. That’s why we recommend waiting at least until the mid-teens unless there are special issues to consider. It’s also why we recommend staying away from over the counter products which could cause problems if used too frequently or without supervision. At NOVA Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics, we value our relationship with our patients and their families and want to hear about their concerns, even if those concerns are cosmetic. We understand that children feel pressure at younger and younger ages, and we want patients and families to share their concerns so that we can work toward the best and healthiest solution.