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Teen tooth-whitening tips

What to know before you reach for the bleach

A bright, white smile can be a major confidence-booster for teens. Brightening products and treatments are readily available. At malls and salons nationwide, teeth-whitening kiosks will administer bleaching treatments to even very young children.

But according to Paul S. Casamassimo, DDS, co-author of Pediatric Dentistry: Infancy through Adolescence, most kiosk workers have little or no medical training to help them administer the powerful bleaching chemicals they sell.

This trend has dental experts concerned, because the chemicals used to whiten teeth are potentially caustic. Misusing them can harm gum tissue, injure tooth nerves and pulp, increase tooth sensitivity and interfere with plastic and composite fillings.

Dentists say that parents can help kids smile brighter without harming vulnerable young teeth. Don’t reach for the bleach until you read up on how to protect your child’s choppers.

Rooting out the problem

Additional whitening tips from dentists

Targeted treatments. When only a few teeth are stained, a dentist can treat only the affected tooth or area with abrasion or single-tooth treatments. This approach minimizes the impact on gums and surrounding teeth and can be less costly.

Whitening products. Before shelling out hundreds of dollars for professional bleaching treatments, consider trying over-the-counter products like whitening toothpaste, floss and whitening strips sold in drugstores. When used properly, they may provide a safe, less expensive alternative to professional treatments.

Choose snacks carefully. Your child’s diet could be dulling his pearly whites. From heavily pigmented sauces to syrupy sodas, many food products can leave lasting stains on kids’ teeth. To keep smiles bright, make sure kids brush after eating. Avoid heavily pigmented foods and drinks for a day or two after teeth-whitening treatments.

Ask the dentist if your child is a good candidate for teeth whitening. According to the American Dental Association, whitening products are meant for natural tooth enamel, and won’t work on fillings, crowns or veneers. Dental problems should be addressed before bleaching.

A dentist can also diagnose the reasons behind discoloration. Teeth can be darker because of injury, dental treatment, vitamins, iron supplements, decay or antibiotic treatment. It’s also possible that perceived discoloration is just a reflection of the natural variations in human tooth coloring.

Bleaching concerns

Bleaching treatments should be considered off-limits until kids hit the teen years. By age 12 or 13, most kids have a full set of permanent teeth. Some dentists, including Carolyn Taggart- Burns, DDS, a spokesperson for the national Academy of General Dentistry, recommend waiting until children reach the mid-teens and teeth are fully grown.

One of the biggest concerns about bleaching is the potential harm to children’s gum tissue. Over time, bleaching chemicals can cause gum irritation and pain, and research links bleaching chemicals to cellular changes in gum tissue, says Dr. Casamassimo. Custom-made bleaching trays ordered from a dentist’s office can minimize contact between gums and bleaching agents, and lessen the chance for irritation.

Bleaching treatments are temporary; in time, teeth will return to their original hue and bleaching treatments will need to be repeated.

10 foods that stain kids' teeth

Kids’ teeth are porous and susceptible to staining from everyday fare. For a brighter smile, make sure kids brush thoroughly after enjoying these foods.

1.  Coffee and tea
2.  Cola
3.  Dark fruit juices like grape and cranberry
4.  Fruit pops
5.  Soy sauce

 6.  Tomato sauce
 7.  Blueberries
 8.  Beets
 9.  Curry
10. Chocolate

Malia Jacobson is a freelance writer.

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