March 30, 2021

If Hollywood and social media are anything to go by, a gleaming white smile is normal and anything less than that needs urgent dental attention. However, the truth is that most teeth are naturally different shades of off-white, yellow, and even gray. Baby teeth have a thinner coating of enamel compared to adult teeth, so a child’s first teeth will usually appear quite a bit lighter than adult teeth. Even normal variations in color can be startling once a child’s baby teeth fall out and their permanent teeth grow in! Due to these and other reasons, we here at the dental office of Dr. Scott Edwards often hear from parents wondering if they should be brightening 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 permanently damage teeth. 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.

What the experts have to say

The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry both recommend waiting until all of the 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 the way their teeth look. In cases like these, our doctors will discuss the available options with the parents and patient to determine which approach is best–even in these cases, we recommend consulting with us before brightening your child’s smile with at-home treatments.

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. The higher the concentration of this solution, the higher the chances of it causing problems in a child’s teeth. These issues can range 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 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 completely grown in. This usually occurs around 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. Edwards or Dr. Prince. 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 result in high oxidation levels, which may cause permanent damage. Whitening a child’s teeth without professional guidance may also mask certain underlying 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 still in possession of 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, a few of which we’ll outline here.

Avoid foods and drinks that are known for staining teeth

Soda, some fruit juices, and treats loaded with bright dyes can easily stain the teeth, especially when consumed regularly. Encourage children to stick to water and a variety of fruits and veggies instead!  

Use a whitening toothpaste

A good dental hygiene routine will help prevent staining. This includes brushing twice a day for at least two minutes each time and flossing every night before bed. A pea-sized amount of whitening toothpaste is gentler than treatments and can safely be used regularly to help brighten a child’s teeth.

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 Scott Edwards, DDS

When it comes to teeth whitening treatments for children, barring special circumstances, we recommend waiting until the 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, at-home treatments for brightening their child’s smile, like pens and gels. If used too frequently or without supervision, these can damage your child’s teeth. 

At the office of Scott Edwards, DDS, 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!