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The quest for a whiter smile

Is teeth whitening safe for young adults?

Who doesn't want a whiter smile? It looks great and feels great. Even though normal teeth are not always bright white, we have been convinced by advertisers they should be as white as snow. Whitening teeth is so popular that you can get an over-the-counter product to use at home, or even stop by a local salon where you can get a whiter smile along with your manicure.

Pearly whites are nice to have, but at what cost? Don't be one of those people who go overboard in the quest for a perfect smile. Learn the facts about teeth whitening first.

Be smart about whitening

Even though your baby teeth are long gone, your permanent teeth are not done growing until their roots are fully formed. This doesn't happen until your mid-twenties,1 so it's important to treat them right while they're growing.

If you decide to whiten, start by talking to your dentist. He or she will first check the overall health of your teeth. This matters, because if you have any cracks or holes, whitening products will be able to reach the nerves, which will be painful.2

Your dentist can also diagnose why your teeth are less than marshmallow white. Teeth can discolor for a number of reasons: cavities, injury, vitamins, supplements, antibiotics, eating or drinking certain foods, or some dental treatments. Learn more about tooth enamel here.

Once any damage is addressed, your dentist can make suggestions about which teeth whiteners are best for you — the do-it-yourself kind or professional whitening.

If you're a good candidate for whitening, there are some things you should know:

  • Whiteners can make teeth more sensitive, as well as harm gum tissue, tooth nerves, and tooth pulp which can result in mild discomfort or severe pain. In most cases the sensitivity does not last, but in rare cases bleaching teeth can cause permanent damage.3
  • Whitening products only work on natural tooth enamel. They do not work on fillings, crowns or veneers.4 As a result, you may not want to do whole-mouth whitening.
  • Dozens of commercial products claim to help whiten your smile, but some can be abrasive. It can be confusing to choose between whitening strips, whitening floss, and whitening toothpastes. If you go the over-the-counter route, choose only ADA recommended products.
  • Don't use any whitening product (over-the-counter or provided by your dentist) more than recommended in the instructions. More is not better in this case — you can damage your teeth and gums.

So how do you keep your teeth stain-free? Turns out, several healthy habits are also good for your smile.

Watch what you eat and drink

Dark foods and drinks like cola, wine, coffee, tea, and berries stain teeth. Acidic foods like citrus fruits and pickled foods can eat away at tooth enamel, which can make teeth appear yellowed or dull. Limit how much you consume, and immediately rinse your mouth with water after eating or drinking to help avoid staining.

Don't smoke or use tobacco products

Tobacco stains teeth. The more you use it, the worse the stains will get. Besides, you know you should quit, right?

Practice good dental care

Brushing, flossing, and getting regular checkups are how you can keep your whole mouth healthy. Stronger teeth resist staining, so see your dentist every six months as recommended.

A nice, white smile feels good and can be a real confidence boost. But be smart about it. See your dentist before trying any teeth whiteners. And drop those bad habits – stick to the healthy ones.

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