Dentists warn against teens using at-home teeth whitening kits

Dental experts are urging parents to exercise caution before allowing children to use at-home teeth whitening products often promoted by Instagram influencers, warning the social media-driven pursuit of the "perfect" smile is damaging for their oral health.

According to Dr Toni Surace, a Melbourne surgical dentist, parents with children as young as 11 are seeking teeth-whitening advice, and some very young patients are using do-it-yourself whitening kits which could damage the natural development of tooth enamel.

The safety and effectiveness of DIY teeth whitening kids for people under 18 is being questioned by dental experts.Credit:Shutterstock

She said home teeth whitening kits should carry warnings that they are unsuitable for children under 18, because they be too abrasive for young teeth.

“Much of the pressure comes down to the portrayal of young people on social media," said the founder of The Great Smile Dentist.  "I would love to see some warnings on social media about abrasiveness for all ages. But definitely for children, there should be a warning not to use these products under 18."

Australian Dental Association Deputy CEO, and general manager of policy and regulation, Eithne Irving, said off-the-shelf whitening kids were not only "ineffective" but potentially damaging to maturing teeth.

Ms Irving said, when they first appear, adult teeth are naturally less white than mature teeth, as it takes several years for lighter coloured enamel to develop. Diet can also influence the colour of young adult teeth.

Dr Surace agreed, warning at-home teeth whitening kids are not a "quick fix" for teeth that do not appear as white as young people may believe they should be, due to what they see on social media.

“Off-the-shelf products are often one-size-fits all and can be very dangerous,” Dr Surace said.

“In the dental chair we are able to use hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide in certain levels that are safe, as well as being able to see if the chemicals will cause any problems.

"But many of the DIY products don’t have a concentration that is active enough to really work, and on the flip side some products extremely abrasive and will set them up for a lot of dental problems in the future by eroding the tooth enamel, (potentially causing) ulcerations and burning their gums as well.

"If you scrub and scrub using these products, like anything, the outside becomes thinner and dentine, the yellow inner layer of our teeth starts to show more.”

Dr Surace and Ms Irving also pointed out that home remedies and natural products, including lemon juice and charcoal, should also be avoided in people aged under 18, as should LED light treatment, whitening strips or even whitening toothpaste.

“An expert is likely not to do anything before 18 unless something is disfiguring to a patient and causing psychological confidence problems,” Dr Surace said.

In cases where an enamel defect or staining in the teeth is evident in children's teeth, bleaching of any kind is ineffective, and techniques such as veneers should be used.

The Australian Dental Association advises all patients to avoid beauticians, hairdressers, and shopping centres who are not qualified to whiten teeth.

“We recommend that patients attend only a dentist when considering teeth whitening to ensure importantly that there is no active disease present and then to evaluate the type of discolouration and whether they are likely to get a result from bleaching,” said Ms Irving.

Dr Surace added that good gum health can contribute to teeth appearing better.

She advised parents whose young children were requesting teeth whitening to be aware that “mental health and social problems” could be underlying this, and said social media influeners and companies promoting do-it-yourself whitening products should take responsibility for educating young people on the dangers.

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