Despite the gleaming smile it gives you, there are a few negative side effects to the tooth whitening process, especially if you're a youth. The biggest complaint? Tooth sensitivity and irritation along the gum line, lasting anywhere from 1 to 2 weeks post-bleaching.
More than half of people who whiten their teeth complain of mild tooth sensitivity. Ten percent experience moderate sensitivity, and about four percent report severe sensitivity [source: Jorgensen]. Individuals with gum recession or gingivitis are most susceptible to sensitive teeth and gums during and after the bleaching process.
While more than 30 percent of kids and teens wish they had whiter teeth, dentists recommend that anyone younger than 16 years old wait to bleach until at least later adolescence [source: Lee]. That's because kids and teens have more than a sensitivity side effect to worry about. Other than the complications that could happen at any age such as overuse or misalignment of the bleaching strips or trays, the most common problem kids and teens may run into when whitening is their dental maturity.
It takes a long time to achieve full dental maturity. Young teens may not have a fully developed, fully mature, set of permanent teeth, and this can throw a wrench in the teeth whitening process in a number of ways.
First, let's talk aesthetics. Teens who have mixed teeth (a combination of some primary and some permanent teeth) may find that the color of their pearly whites becomes uneven as more permanent teeth grow into place. It can be difficult to color correct the varying shades of white between those new adult teeth and the ones previously whitened.
Another reason to wait for a full set of permanent teeth: immature enamel. On average that last baby tooth doesn't fall out until about the age of 12, and even once all our permanent teeth have grown in, it takes two more years for the enamel to mature, a process called enamel calcification. During this stage of development, not only is the enamel immature, which makes the tooth more permeable, but the pulp (the nerve) of the tooth is enlarged. Permeability decreases as we age, which means bleaching products may work faster on kids and teens that it does on adults. And bleaching before our permanent teeth are fully mature could expose the pulp to more peroxide than intended and irritate the tooth pulp or cause nerve sensitivity. The verdict? Shelve the bleach until at least age 16.
More Great Links
- American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry. "Teeth Whitening." (Aug 12, 2011) http://www.aacd.com/index.php?module=cms&page=568
- Academy Academy of General Dentistry. "What Color is Your Smile?" 2007. (Aug 12, 2011) http://www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article/?abc=w&iid=300&aid=1198
- Bernie, Kristy Menage. "Get the Facts on Tooth Whitening." American Dental Hygienists' Association. (Aug 12, 2011) http://www.adha.org/downloads/tooth_whitening_factsheet.pdf
- Children's Hospital Boston. "Mouth and Teeth." (Aug. 12, 2011) http://www.childrenshospital.org/az/Site566/mainpageS566P1.html
- Deardorff, Julie. "Too Young for a Bleached Smile?" The Ledger. 2007. (Aug. 12, 2011) http://www.theledger.com/article/20070306/NEWS/703060359?tc=ar
- Donly, Kevin J.; Kennedy, Paul III; Segura, Adriana; Robert W. Gerlach. "Effectiveness and Safety of Tooth Bleaching in Teenagers." Pediatric Dentistry. Vol. 27, no. 4. Pages 298-302. 2005. (Aug 12, 2011) http://www.aapd.org/upload/articles/Donly-27-4.pdf
- Donly, Kevin J. "Tooth Whitening in Children and Adolescents." Journal of Esthetic and Restorative Dentistry. Vol. 17, no. 6. Page 380. 2005. (Aug, 12, 2011) http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1708-8240.2005.tb00474.x/pdf
- Heymann, H.O. "Tooth whitening: facts and fallacies." British Dental Journal. Vol. 198, no. 514. 2005. (Aug. 12, 2011) http://www.nature.com/bdj/journal/v198/n8/full/4812298a.html
- Jorgensen, Michael G. and William B. Carroll. "Incidence of tooth sensitivity after home whitening treatment." The Journal of The American Dental Association. Vol. 133, no. 8. Pages 1076-1082. 2002. (Aug 12, 2011) http://www.adajournal.com/content/133/8/1076.full
- Lee, Sean S.; Zhang, Wu; Lee, D. Harvey; Yiming Li. "Tooth Whitening in Children and Adolescents: A Literature Review." Pediatric Dentistry. Vol. 27, no. 5. Pages 362-368. 2005. (Aug. 12, 2011) http://www.kfshrcj.org/NR/rdonlyres/CBC2BDBF-99DD-469C-A63D-5B599216CA55/1466/childrentoothwhitening.pdf
- Mapes, Diane. "Blindingly white: Teeth bleaching gone too far." MSNBC.com. January 7, 2007. (Aug. 15, 2011) http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15309784/
- MedicineNet. "Teeth Whitening." 2005. (Aug. 12, 2011) http://www.medicinenet.com/teeth_whitening/article.htm
- Painter, Kim. "Teeth bleaching: Teens should be cautious." USA TODAY. 2005. (Aug. 12, 2011) http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2005-10-09-teeth-whitening_x.htm
- Research!America. "Research Takes Cents."2010. (Aug 12, 2011) http://www.researchamerica.org/research_cents
- WebMD. Oral Health Center. "Teeth Whitening." 2010. (Aug. 12, 2011) http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/guide/teeth-whitening