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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 parents."

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."

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How Do I Measure Up? Get the Facts Fast!

Number of Days Per Week I Floss

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Only 18.5% of Americans never floss. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Floss removes food trapped between the teeth and removes the film of bacteria that forms there before it turns to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Try flossing just one tooth to get started.

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily. You are missing out on a simple way to make a big difference in the health of your mouth. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for 3 more days!

You are one of 31% of Americans who don't floss daily, but you're well on your way to making a positive impact on your teeth and gums. Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Aim for all 7 days!

Only 50.5% of Americans floss daily, and good for you that you are one of them! Regardless of how well you brush, plaque still forms between your teeth and along your gums. Toothbrush bristles alone cannot clean effectively between these tight spaces. Flossing removes up to 80% of the film that hardens to plaque, which can cause inflamed gums (gingivitis), cavities, and tooth loss. Congratulations on your good oral health habit!

SOURCES:

American Dental Association, Healthy People 2010

This tool is intended only for adults 18 and older.

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