Whitening teeth has become a national fashion statement for teens as well as adults in the United States. At Dentistry for Children in Orlando, we were surprised to discover the price of the pursuit of a whiter, brighter smile has skyrocketed the teeth whitening industry to 11,000,000,000 dollars per year. That’s correct, nine zeros make that number eleven billion.
The Price of Whitening the Brightest Smiles
Families spent only $1,400,000,000 worth of that revenue on take-home products like gels, trays, devices, whitening toothpaste, and rinses.
Meanwhile, fully 14 per cent of the American population has been to the dentist for professional whitening treatments at least once.
Movies and television portray a dazzling white standard of dental beauty that is difficult to achieve when you are 13. At that age, every detail of appearance seems crushingly important. Thus, many children express dislike of the color of their nice new permanent teeth.
Even normal colored teeth might appear off-white, grayish or yellow-toned when compared to those bright pearls of childhood, the lost baby teeth. For many parents, it’s not a question of if their children will want teeth whitening, but when they will start asking for it.
In the words of Dr. James Nickman, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, “It is a fairly common question usually starting in the middle-school years and is likely driven by the interest in aesthetics.” And it is not only the children who want it. Parents also are sometimes concerned about the color of their child’s teeth.
Dr. Nickman added, “The main concern from parents is the appearance of the new permanent teeth compared to the baby teeth. The new permanent teeth usually are more yellow in appearance, which is completely normal. The teens usually are concerned about the color of the permanent teeth and would like the ‘white’ teeth seen in magazines, online or on TV.”
Safety Questions about Whitening Products
In the twenty-first century, buying whitening products for teeth seems as natural as buying that ointment for adolescent acne. And it’s very easy to toss the whitening products in the grocery cart at the local Big Box store, at an average price of $34.00 per box.
But wait—just how safe is that over-the-counter teeth bleaching agent? As you will see below, perhaps there is no cut and dried answer to this question—not currently anyway.
Red Flag 1. First, let us check the AAPD (America Academy of Pediatric Dentistry) policy and guideline manual on this subject in regards to children.
As concerned parents, the first red flag we might note would be a lack of testing and research. By the way, the government considers over-the-counter teeth whitening products as cosmetics, not drugs. So, the FDA does not test and regulate them.
The AAPD guideline states, “It should be noted that most of the research on bleaching has been performed on adult patients, with only a small amount of published bleaching research using child or adolescent patients.”
At Dentistry for Children, we highly anticipate more research and studies on this issue in the coming years.
What Side-Effects Occur With Whitening?
The APDD Policy and Guidelines Manual lists two modestly alarming, although temporary, side effects:
Red Flag 2. Tooth sensitivity–66% of users report this side effect.
Red Flag 3. Tissue irritation –studies prove that badly fitting mouth trays cause irritated gums, not the hydrogen peroxide in such trays. While manufactures might list a 3.5-10 percent solution of hydrogen peroxide, independent testing has shown the solutions are sometimes up to 15.00 percent.
Red Flag 4. The AD stated that these side effects are usually moderate and temporary. At Dentistry for Children, for those of us who are parents, the red flags add up to a simple question. Do we really want to put an irritating product into the unsupervised child’s hands?
An Urban Legend in Dental Care
There is a story, growing into an urban legend, about a 13-year-old boy who greatly appreciated his tooth-whitening appearance. In fact, he loved it so much he overdid his self-treatments. Finally, his teeth became so sensitive he could not eat. Of course, his parents took him to his dentist who to his horror, discovered the child had removed most of the enamel from his front teeth.
Safe Use of Whitening Products
Red flag 5. So we have a question of compliance. Clearly, a well-meaning, unsupervised child could abuse or misuse a tooth whitening product. However, we must admit that there have been no reported cases of significant damage when children use the products as directed.
So, the final recommendation of the AAPD is two-fold, but they both involve at least an initial trip to your dentist.
1. You can allow your child to do his or her own dental whitening at home. However, you should see a dentist first, concerning the health of the child’s teeth. (There will be more data about the possible clinical reasons for discolored teeth in Part 2 of our coverage of this topic.) After a thorough examination and cleaning, Dr. Troy King at Dentistry for children will educate you and your child on the cautious use of the proper whitening products.
2. You can invest in whitening that smiles with professional whitening by your dentist. At Dentistry for children, Dr. Troy King will do the initial treatment. Then, he will educate your child for better compliance including the use of a special whitening device.
In our next blog, Part 2 of our coverage of this topic, we will reveal a few more red flags about home teeth whitening treatments.
In this three part series of blogs on tooth-whitening, we will also lead you through a step-by-step process of a professional whitening treatment for your child. Then you will be prepared to decide between option 1 and 2 above when your child asks the big question about bleaching his or her teeth.