Q: Dr. Crapo: My daughter is fourteen and is “miss fashion” – hair, clothes, nails, shoes and now teeth. I think she has nice teeth but she wants them whiter. She has friends that told her they’re getting their teeth bleached whiter and she should too. She says they’d researched it and are waiting to have it done at a special spa in California when their family vacations there at Christmas. She says they have special lights and the latest in materials to whiten the teeth. When I asked her how much it costs, she said “well, I won’t have to have it done there”. “How much” I asked? “About $1500” she said. I was shocked! “I can get a deal” she pleaded. We agreed she needed to do more research. What do you think? This fashion stuff is so important to her and we (her parents) want her to look attractive. Is it safe? How long does it take? Is there one way of whitening that’s better than another? Does it last?
A: Nearly twenty-five years ago, whitening teeth burst onto the scene. In 1989, my office became a testing office for these products. After several weeks, we found a technique that worked for adults no matter the product.
We had great success for about two years until one day we had a request from parents of a thirteen year old boy to whiten his teeth. Our technique required wearing whitening trays two hours per day. We usually got wonderful results over a two week period.
At the two week checkup, the thirteen year old said “after I’ve had the trays in for two hours my teeth look whiter but by the end of the day they look the same as before”. I said to him “let’s have you come in the morning after a “two hour wearing” so I can see what’s happening, then at the end of the day let me see you again”. We saw him the next day. Sure enough he was whiter in the morning and back to regular shade by the evening.
Puzzled, I visited with the head of our research group who said he’d heard several other testing dentists make the same observation.
Enamel in permanent teeth is “more porous” in the first years after the teeth come in. As we age it picks up minerals that make it denser. In the thirteen year old, what was being done by the whitening procedure was being undone by his oral fluids.
I don’t whiten teeth in teenagers as I guarantee the result and their teeth aren’t ready for that treatment. Lastly, we don’t know if repeated trying to bleach in teenagers will damage the “hardening” process that occurs in adulthood.
My advice – wait – for health sake, wait!