Addictive Pursuit of Pearly Whites?
Some users of teeth-whitening products become fixated on getting the perfect smile.
Special Dangers for Younger Users
Lichtenthal does not recommend bleaching for people under age 18.
"There's an increased risk that those teeth will become hypersensitive and
the teeth's pulp will react with the bleach," he says. "The problem
with bleaching younger children's teeth is the size of the pulp. The nerve
inside the tooth is very large -- it hasn't shrunk yet."
Dentists would use X-rays to see how wide and how large the pulp is, he
says. "That's a discussion the practitioner would have with the kid's
If teenagers have part-time jobs, they may buy over-the-counter whitening
products without telling their parents. "You have to know your own
children," says Messina. "If your children are hyperaware of their
teeth, it's not a dental problem, it becomes a psychological problem."
Messina believes it's the parents' obligation to advise their children about
what's appropriate. "I think that's part of normal parenting -- to help
your kids develop a healthy understanding of how they're going to make their
way in an adult world. If parents have any doubts or worries, they should talk
to their health professional."
Work With Your Dentist
One of the best reasons to include dentists in any whitening process is they
know more than the patient and can help explain the fine points and limitations
of the procedure. "Some people are bleaching, but those teeth are
impossible to bleach," says Doundoulakis. Old fillings, old crowns, or
decay in teeth will not take to whitening, he says.
"Partner with your dentist to discuss what you're trying to achieve,
pick his brains and get his best recommendations on what products would be best
and get the right direction," says Doundoulakis, who is director of implant
prosthetics at New York's Mount Sinai Medical Center.
"Many dentists recommend over-the-counter products first," he says.
A spokesman for Procter & Gamble and Crest, Doundoulakis sells
professional-strength Crest Whitestrips, which Crest makes available for sale
only through dentists' offices. He has also quelled the teeth-whitening mania
of some of his more avid patients. "Once you lead them in the right
direction, they can be reasoned with."
"The amount of product the patient has should be controlled by the
dentist," says David. He concedes that it's not uncommon for patients to
request a whiter shade than the one he suggests. "I'm obligated to tell
them the truth - we'll get them to the whitest normal shade," he says.
"If they want to go beyond that, they've come to the wrong office."