Part One: Whitening for Teens
Proms, graduations, vacations and other photo-op moments are on the horizon for you – and spurring you to consider a smile makeover. Whitening today is easier than ever, and you may be motivated by those brilliant smiles on magazine covers and even on your friends and schoolmates.
If you’ve mentioned the idea of having your teeth whitened to your parents, you’ve probably heard this question: Is it safe? You may have wondered about it yourself. So is it?
The straightforward answer: It depends. Although teeth whitening solutions can produce good to excellent results, they can also produce side effects, and may not always give you the outcome you expected. Here are some things to consider when making a decision.
You can be too young – and the issue isn’t safety, it’s appearance. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, younger teens who don’t yet have all their permanent teeth (unusual, but it does happen) risk whitening that mix of permanent and primary teeth and ending up with mismatched teeth —artificially whitened next to newer arrivals that are naturally colored. Matching them later can be tricky and expensive.
Also, permanent teeth in younger teens often have not fully emerged from the gums. So you could end up with teeth that are noticeably whiter near the biting surface than near the gum line – not an attractive look. Another concern is that whitening kit instructions need to be carefully followed. If you are not fond of reading directions closely, or tend to use whitening treatments more often than directed, you could cause irritation, painful tooth sensitivity—or even damage to the enamel or pulp of a tooth.
For the most part, these problems are usually resolved by the time you are 16 to 18. So, I generally recommend that you wait until that age before deciding whether or not to whiten. I urge my teen patients who are considering whitening first to come in for a brief (and free) exam. During the exam, our team checks the maturity of teeth; looks for problems, such as irritated gums, that should be resolved before whitening; and offers advice on whitening options.
Healthy young teeth are most often naturally white (emphasis on natural) without artificial brighteners. The friends and schoolmates whose smiles you’ve been studying may be doing nothing more complicated than regular brushing and flossing to maintain those bright healthy smiles. At your next dental exam, ask to check your smile against your dentist’s shade guide. You may be surprised to find that your teeth are naturally right up there on the whiteness scale. If beverages or foods that you favor have actually stained your teeth, try giving them up temporarily. After a week or two, if regular brushing hasn’t brightened your smile, try over-the-counter whitening toothpaste, preferably one recommended by the American Dental Association.
Most importantly, be aware that whitening is not a replacement for brushing and flossing. The same habitual care that keeps your hair shiny and your skin glowing works wonders on your teeth. Here is a routine that will keep your newly whitened teeth healthy and sparkling:
- Clean your teeth well twice a day, after breakfast and last thing before you go to sleep at night
- Use a small toothbrush with soft bristles to protect enamel from scratching and dulling, and gums from damage
- Use fluoride toothpaste. Spit, don’t rinse to keep protection working
- Cut back or cut out enamel-staining drinks
- Choose water as your main drink. Tap water is best because it contains fluoride to harden and repair enamel
- After eating, rinse your mouth with water to stop plaque build-up.
- Definitely don’t smoke! It darkens and stains teeth.