Maybe it's because of school ball season, maybe it's because of the inundation of tooth-whitening ads on Instagram - this week I've had several teenagers ask me about tooth whitening. Is it a good idea for teenagers to whiten their teeth? It can be done safely, but there's a few things to consider.
Let's put aside for a moment the complicated issue of teenage self-esteem. There is a massive, scary, convincing media influence on teenagers and young adults alike. Having unrealistically white teeth is all rolled up into this. I'm always of the opinion that we should be encouraging everyone to be proud of the physical attributes they naturally have, and focus more on their worth as a whole person than merely their appearance. But enough armchair psychology. The clinical aspects of whitening teenage teeth are relevant as well, as there are some differences compared to adults which need to be considered.
Think about the pulp, which is the blood vessels and nerves living in the centre of every tooth. The pulp is what 's feeling that cold ice cream on your front teeth, and what is removed when a root canal treatment is done. When a tooth is newly erupted the pulp is quite large, quite close to the surface. As we age and assault our teeth with daily chewing, grinding, and sometimes decay, the pulp recedes and becomes smaller. This effectively means that the older we get, there is more thickness of tooth between the pulp and the surface. More insulation. The main side effect of tooth whitening is hot and cold sensitivity. If you're a younger person with a pulp that's closer to the surface, you have an increased risk of your teeth being sensitive while you're whitening.
The other squishy pink thing to consider is the gums. Depending on the physical maturity of the teenager in question, the body may still be remodelling the gum line. Remember that it's not unusual for the upper canines to erupt as late as 13 or 14 years of age. If you whiten that teenager's teeth before the teeth have found their final position, in the coming months to years there will be a mostly white tooth with a darker band that used to be covered by gum. While we're on tooth position, let's not forget that many teenagers have braces. It's wise to wait a few months after removal of braces to ensure the gum line is in a stable spot before whitening.
The final consideration is teenage behaviour. Whitening under the supervision of a dentist may be the safest option if the alternative is a teenager with his/her own income buying over-the-counter products then using them more vigorously than they were designed for. Whitening products must be used according to the directions, as over-use can potentially damage the teeth and gums.
So is teenage whitening a good idea for you or your child? It can be done safely, but with caution. A whiter smile can make anyone want to smile more, and smiling more is always a good thing :)