Is your teen too young for teeth whitening?

Drawbacks and Side Effects of Teeth Whitening

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.

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