More and more teens, especially girls, are asking parents for permission to whiten their teeth, using either products from the drugstore or with the assistance of a dentist. When a teen is free from braces, there is a desire to have the best, brightest smile possible, and teeth whitening is at the top of the list. Parents find themselves wondering if it’s safe or even acceptable for a teen to take this kind of cosmetic step.
Dentists agree, tooth whitening is safe for teens. Drugstore products like whitening gels, strips or trays have a lower concentration of chemicals than treatments found at the dentist’s office. These products are safe when used for no more than their recommended durations, although professional treatments will act faster and last longer.
The main concern for younger patients is that their teeth are also “young,” meaning that the pulp inside the tooth that supplies the blood, nutrients and nerve of the tooth is larger and closer to the surface than in adult teeth. This can mean that the younger tooth is a more sensitive tooth, and that any sensitivity side effects that come from teeth whitening would be exacerbated in the young patient.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommended recently that full-mouth whitening be discouraged in any patients who don’t yet have all of their permanent teeth. Children who whiten a mix of adult and baby teeth can end up with teeth that are mismatched.
Another concern about at-home whitening for teens is that they might not follow all of the instructions, leading to sensitivity or pain. Any whitening treatment should be discontinued at the advent of any pain or discomfort. Whitening is safest when performed under the supervision of a trained dental professional.
Dental exams can determine if the teen has any issues, such as red or swollen gums or decayed teeth that have to be taken care of prior to whitening. Whitening a tooth that is unhealthy can lead to uneven color and the chemicals used can irritate already problematic gums.