If you only watched movies, television, and children’s media, you may come to believe that a stunningly bright white smile is normal and anything less than that is unacceptable. The truth is, most teeth are different shades of off-white, yellow, and even gray. Color differences that are natural and not necessarily indicative of anything wrong, and definitely not a sign that you should whiten your children’s teeth. Baby teeth have a thinner coating of enamel than adult teeth, so a child’s first teeth will usually appear quite a bit lighter than adult teeth. Normal variations in color may be startling once a child’s baby teeth fall out and their permanent teeth grow in!
Here at Cashmere Family Dentistry, we often hear from parents wondering if it’s possible to brighten their child’s smile with at-home treatments. While some methods can be safe for kids, not all are recommended for those under a certain age, and some can even do permanent damage to your teeth. Though there are generally many reasons why you shouldn’t whiten your children’s teeth, there can be exceptions. Let’s take a closer look at some guidelines for professional teeth whitening in children, including when it’s considered safe and what options we offer to our patients! Keep reading below to learn more.
Consulting the experts
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry both recommend waiting until all of your child’s permanent teeth have grown in before attempting whitening treatments. This will generally be somewhere between the ages of 13-15. Occasionally, some circumstances would lead us to consider whitening at a younger age. For example, some children are more susceptible to staining, while braces, illness, and injury can sometimes leave noticeable areas of discoloration. They may feel unhappy or self-conscious about their smile, especially if they experience teasing or social anxiety as a result of how their smile looks. In cases like these, our doctors will discuss the available options with the parents and patient to determine which approach is safest.
Why do experts recommend waiting? As we mentioned above, a child’s baby teeth have a thinner coating of enamel than their permanent teeth will. This makes them appear brighter, but it also means they have less dentin and pulp, which is the living connective tissue inside each tooth. Most whitening products, including strips, gels, and pens, use a hydrogen peroxide solution to bleach the teeth. This solution, especially in higher concentrations, can lead to temporary or permanent damage to the teeth, as well as issues ranging from increased tooth sensitivity to demineralization of the dentin. High concentrations of hydrogen peroxide may also lead to further discolorations to the teeth, especially when they are administered without expert supervision.
Are there any risks to using teeth whitening products on children?
Ideally, no teeth whitening products should be used until the tooth pulp is fully formed and the permanent teeth have all grown in completely. This usually occurs by the age of 12-13 and is followed by a year or two of further tooth hardening called the enamel calcification process. Any whitening treatment that’s administered before enamel calcification occurs has the potential to damage a child’s teeth if it’s not supervised or administered by a dental professional like Dr. Janie Busk, Dr. Ryan Busk, or Dr. Danielle Harris. If it is not, the strong chemicals found in most teeth whitening agents can:
- damage the gum tissue
- injure the tooth pulp or nerves
- disrupt crowns, fillings, or veneers
- cause enamel pitting or disintegration.
Additionally, overuse of at-home treatment methods can induce dangerous levels of oxidation, thereby breaking down your child’s tooth structure. Whitening a child’s teeth without professional guidance may also mask certain root causes for discoloration, thus delaying the appropriate treatment. These causes can include:
- injury to a tooth
- some iron supplements and vitamins
- early childhood tooth decay
- some types of medications and antibiotics
In cases of extreme discoloration, a dentist can safely treat the affected teeth if necessary to minimize the impact on the surrounding teeth and gums.
Are there any alternatives to teeth whitening treatments for children?
For children who still have some baby teeth, preemptive stain prevention will often be the safest way to keep their smiles bright and white! There are several ways to do this, including:
Avoiding foods and drinks that are known for staining teeth
Soda, some fruit juices, and treats loaded with bright dyes or sugar can easily stain the teeth, especially when consumed regularly. Encourage children to stick to water and a healthy variety of fruits and veggies instead!
Using a whitening toothpaste
A good dental hygiene routine will help prevent staining. This includes brushing at least twice a day for around two minutes each time, and flossing every night before bed. A pea-sized amount of whitening toothpaste is gentler than whitening treatments and can safely be used regularly to help brighten a child’s teeth.
Scheduling regular dental visits
Children should see a dentist every six months for a thorough cleaning and exam. These visits help prevent tooth decay and cavities, detect any issues requiring attention, and keep a child’s mouth healthy and happy throughout the year!
Get expert guidance on your child’s smile from Cashmere Family Dentistry
When it comes to teeth whitening treatments for children, we recommend waiting until your child’s permanent teeth have completely grown in, and preferably a couple of years after that. For most children, this will be once they hit their mid-teens. We also encourage parents to check with us before using any over-the-counter whitening products like pens or gels. If used too frequently or without supervision from your dentist, these can damage your child’s teeth.
At Cashmere Family Dentistry, we understand that many parents and children have cosmetic concerns about their smiles. Your child’s health and safety are our top priority, and we’re committed to working with you towards the best and healthiest solution for their teeth! If your child is struggling with staining or discoloration of the teeth, we’d love to walk you through your options. Get in touch to schedule an appointment with our talented dentists and take the first step towards a lifetime of bright, beautiful smiles for your child!