Addictive Pursuit of Pearly Whites?
Some users of teeth-whitening products become fixated on getting the perfect smile.
Can Teeth Be Damaged? continued...
"There's no assurance people will have achieved the results they're looking for," says Steven David, DMD, a dentist in private practice in New York.
David is also a clinical professor of cariology and operative dentistry at New York University School of Dentistry. "It's possible to spend the same amount of money without the monitoring of a trained professional," he says. According to David, that's the difference between buying a product and buying a service. "Dentists perform a service, and it's important for dentists to monitor the service."
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.