May 28, 2024
How to Whiten Kids’ Teeth

Many parents are concerned about their children’s dental health and take even normal tooth decay seriously. I really respect such parents, as this is important for kids. However, many kids develop stains (yellow teeth) or discoloration on their teeth over time due to poor oral hygiene, food and drinks, medications, or trauma. This can happen even when kids brush their teeth regularly.

White and healthy teeth are important for kids’ confidence and oral health. Many parents come to ask about teeth whitening for kids. So, as a pediatric dentist, here’s my take on teeth whitening in kids and everything important that parents must know.

Read: Rotten Teeth Kids: Everything About Tooth Decay in Kids

Why Do Kids’ Teeth Become Discolored?

Before you go for whitening treatment for your kids’ teeth, it is important to understand why do kids’ teeth turn yellow. There are a few common causes of tooth discoloration in children:

There are two main types of tooth discoloration – extrinsic and intrinsic staining

Extrinsic stains

Extrinsic stains affect the enamel surface and are caused by:

  1. Food and drinks: Frequent consumption of foods and drinks high in pigments, acids, or sugars can stain and discolor teeth. Common culprits are coffee, tea, soda, juices, berries, tomato sauce, and candy.
  2. Tobacco use
  3. Poor oral hygiene: Not brushing and flossing properly allows plaque buildup and stains to develop on the teeth over time. This is the most preventable cause of discolored teeth.
  4. Certain medications, like iron supplements, can contain pigments that discolor teeth.
  5. Black stains can occur due to chromogenic bacteria.
  6. Use of Chlorhexidine mouthwash for long duration of time (> 2 weeks)

Intrinsic stains

Intrinsic stains are localized inside the tooth, either in the enamel or in the underlying dentin. They can result from excessive fluoride intake during tooth formation (fluorosis), from tetracycline incorporation, and from several metabolic diseases and systemic factors during tooth development. Intrinsic staining of teeth happens prior to tooth eruption during tooth development.

Intrinsic stains affect the inner tooth structure and can be caused by:

  1. Trauma/injury to teeth
  2. Dental fluorosis: Consuming excessive fluoride while teeth are still developing can lead to white spots or streaks called dental fluorosis.
  3. Medications like tetracycline
  4. Genetic conditions affecting enamel and dentin formation, for example, Amelogenesis imperfecta
  5. Tooth decay: Cavities and tooth decay can lead to brown, black, or yellow discolored spots.

Indirect Staining 

Ingredients of oral care products themselves may lead to the staining of tooth surfaces. This is called “indirect staining” because these ingredients typically have a different color than the resulting stains, for example, SDF (Silver Diamine Fluoride), SnF (Stannous Fluoride).

Is it Safe to Whiten Children’s Teeth?

The American Dental Association advises against using bleaching products on kids under 16 years old as the pulp chambers are larger and close to the surface, increasing sensitivity risk.

Always consult your pediatric dentist first before using any whitening methods on kids’ teeth.

Whitening Safety Concerns

There are some risks associated with whitening treatments for kids:

  • Enamel erosion if hydrogen peroxide concentrations are too high
  • Gum irritation or tooth sensitivity during and after treatment
  • Swallowing whitening gel contents if trays or strips are ill-fitting

Tooth whitening is not recommended for children under 16 years old, as it provides little benefit and may damage developing enamel. Consultation with a pediatric dentist can help determine if a child is a candidate for whitening based on their oral health status and dental development.

Treatment Options for Discolored Teeth or Yellow Teeth in Kids

I recommend consulting your dentist before performing any home remedies, OTC toothpaste, or solutions. This is because treatment should be done according to the cause of staining. Here are some effective treatments you should try according to the cause of the staining.

For Extrinsic Staining of Tooth

First, I recommend eliminating the cause of staining – stopping food and beverages causing staining and maintaining proper oral hygiene.

Treatment of staining is always done according to the cause.

1. Poor oral hygiene – Brush and Floss for Plaque Removal

  • Brush twice daily with a soft-bristled brush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Floss daily before brushing to dislodge plaque from between teeth.
  • See your dentist every 6 months to remove hardened plaque (tartar).

Check: How to Make Brushing More Fun: 10 Fun Ways to Get Toddlers to Brush Their Teeth

2. Avoid Stain Causing Foods/Drinks

Limit starchy, acidic, and sugary foods and beverages, including juice, soda, and candy. These contribute to new stains. So, if you want to keep your kid’s teeth white, you need to limit their sugary, starchy, and acidic food consumption.

3. Medication

See your dentist regularly for staining with iron tablets, and stains can be professionally removed by the dentist.

4. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

Crunchy fruits and vegetables can help scrub plaque and stains off teeth. Good choices are apples, carrots, celery sticks, and pears. So, when we are talking about natural ways to get rid of the effects of yellow teeth, you should try this.

5. Drink Water

Swishing with water helps rinse off food debris and stains. Drink more water instead of dark juices or sodas.

6. Eat Dairy Products

Cheese, milk, and yogurt contain enamel-strengthening calcium and vitamin D. Consuming these products is good for overall health and oral health as well.

For Intrinsic Stains

  1. Trauma/injury to teeth may cause black discoloration of the tooth; it can be treated by a dentist with proper protocol according to the type of dental trauma and duration of dental visit after the trauma. (This will be discussed in detail in another article.)
  2. Dental fluorosis: If it’s not of major esthetic concern, it is better to avoid any type of treatment. Consult your dentist for your concerns. Treatment modalities mainly are bleaching, veneers, and crowns. However, these should be performed by a professional and experienced dentist.
  3. Medications like tetracycline: Bleaching, veneers, and crowns can be the treatment option for these stains as well.
  4. Amelogenesis imperfecta: Porcelain veneers can be a good option for the treatment of such genetic conditions.
  5. Tooth decay: Treatment of decayed tooth with restoration with tooth-colored filling material.

Here are Some Bleaching Techniques Used in Dentistry

Always take advice from your dentist before using any of these OTC products.

Over-the-Counter Whitening Products

Many over-the-counter whitening products that contain low concentrations of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide are generally considered safe for kids over 16 years old. However, the American Dental Association notes these products provide only slight whitening compared to professional treatments done in a dental office.

Over-the-counter whitening strips, paint-on gels, or toothpaste may lighten teeth a shade or two, but results can vary greatly depending on the product formulation, application method, and consistency of use. Supervision is recommended when kids use these products to ensure proper technique and prevent ingestion of the gel or strip contents.

Professional In-Office Whitening

In-office whitening performed by a dentist provides the most dramatic whitening results for stained or discolored teeth. This involves applying a higher concentration of hydrogen peroxide gel to the teeth and using a special curing light to accelerate the bleaching process.

Professional whitening is generally considered safe for teens, but most dentists recommend waiting until a child is at least 16 years old, when tooth enamel has matured and teeth are fully erupted. Younger children may experience tooth sensitivity or gum irritation from the whitening gel. Custom-fitted whitening trays are also difficult to make for children with mixed dentition.

Mild over-the-counter whitening products can provide a slight brightening effect on kids’ teeth with minimal risks. However, professional in-office whitening performed by a dentist offers the most dramatic esthetic improvement for significantly stained or discolored teeth in mature teenagers. Careful consideration of the child’s age and dental condition can help guide appropriate and safe whitening options.

Do Teeth Whitening Treatments Work in Kids’ Teeth?

Treatments such as bleaching and abrasion are temporary solutions and are reversible. Unless you remove the cause of the stains, they will be visible after a few months. So, I would not recommend tooth whitening because you need to understand that the natural color of teeth is yellowish and not pure white.

Teeth whitening treatments can be effective for children and teens, but there are some important considerations.

Important Points to Note

If we talk about whitening toothpastes, the clinical efficacy of whitening toothpastes is controversially debated in the literature. These toothpastes contain a high amount of abrasives, which can wear off your enamel. Many articles on the internet recommend baking soda and home bleaching.

Though it is safe, proper attention should be given to the appropriate amount, frequency, and duration, which is difficult with a lack of adequate knowledge. These home remedies and DIY may seem promising for short-term results, but in the long run, they can cause unavoidable complications such as tooth sensitivity and the wearing off of enamel. Use caution with DIY dental care. It may reduce enamel hardness and increase surface roughness. Consult a dentist before starting any new dental regimen.

Reminders for Parents

According to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), before pursuing tooth whitening for your child, there are some important things to keep in mind:

  • Kids may expect their teeth to whiten unrealistically fast. Using high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and light activation can lead to intense tooth sensitivity that lasts around 24 hours after treatment. However, research shows that continuing whitening for 2 full weeks allows the whitening agent to fully penetrate into the teeth. Extending individual sessions does not increase whitening effects further.
  • Avoid using the highest concentrations of whitening agents on kids whenever possible, as their effects on young pulp tissue are not well studied.
  • To prolong whitening results, use whitening toothpaste occasionally. This can help sustain the improvement and slow reversion of the original tooth shade. However, some whitening toothpastes contain abrasives, so they are best used short-term.
  • Beware that foods and drinks like candy, colas, and fruit sodas can restain newly whitened teeth.
  • Discourage kids from brushing too hard with whitening toothpaste, as the abrasives they contain can damage teeth with excess pressure.

If you need further guidance, you can always contact me: your pediatric dentist, Dr. Krupali Gadhvi.

Advanced Treatment Option for Whitening the Teeth

  1. Enamel Microabrasion Technique
  2. Protease Enzymes Such as Papain and Bromelain
  3. Ozone Therapy
  4. Laser Whitening

Should these advanced treatment options for teeth whitening be used with kids? While some milder whitening options like microabrasion may be considered on a case-by-case basis, most teeth whitening procedures are recommended for adolescents over 16 until teeth are fully developed.

Preventive care is encouraged instead to maintain natural tooth shade. Whitening should be postponed unless deemed medically necessary by a pediatric dentist.

How to Prevent Future Stains in Kids

Once teeth are whitened, keep them white by:

  • Brushing with whitening toothpaste daily
  • Rinsing the mouth after eating/drinking
  • Using a straw to drink stain-causing beverages
  • Avoiding stain-causing foods/drinks
  • Getting dental cleanings every 6 months

With proper oral hygiene and care, you can keep your kids smiling brightly with clean, white teeth! Consult your pediatric dentist if you have any concerns.

FAQs

How do I get rid of my child’s yellow teeth?

There are several ways to treat yellow teeth in children, depending on the cause:

  • Improve oral hygiene: Make sure your child is brushing twice a day and flossing daily. Regular brushing and flossing help remove stains over time as the teeth age. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and fluoride toothpaste.
  • Avoid foods/drinks that stain: Limit acidic foods like citrus fruits and juices that can erode enamel. Avoid dark-colored foods and drinks like berries, soy sauce, soda, and coffee that can stain teeth. Rinse mouth after consuming.
  • Over-the-counter whitening toothpaste: Whitening toothpastes with mild abrasives can help gently remove surface stains when used properly. Check with your dentist that the product is safe before use.
  • Professional cleaning: See your dentist for a thorough cleaning or microabrasion treatment, which can help remove stubborn stains.

Can children’s teeth be whitened?

Yes, children’s teeth can be professionally whitened, but it’s not recommended until at least age 16 when all permanent teeth have erupted. At-home whitening products are not recommended for children due to the potential for misuse and enamel damage. Check with your pediatric dentist before using any whitening products on your child’s teeth.

Why are my kid’s teeth so yellow?

There are a few common reasons children’s teeth can become yellow:

  • New permanent teeth coming in: Adult teeth tend to be more yellow initially as they have more dentin. The color evens out over time.
  • Thin enamel: Yellow dentin shows through more when the enamel is thin, often due to genetics.
  • Food and drink stains: Frequent consumption of acidic, pigmented, or sugary foods and drinks can stain teeth.
  • Poor oral hygiene: Lack of thorough brushing and flossing leads to plaque buildup that causes stains.
  • Enamel fluorosis: Consuming too much fluoride while enamel is forming can cause white spots and discoloration.
  • Medications: Antibiotics like tetracycline can cause staining if taken while teeth are forming.

Why are my 7-year-old’s teeth yellow?

It’s common for permanent teeth coming in around age 6-7 years old to appear more yellow initially. Adult teeth have more dentin, which is yellow, than baby teeth. As the enamel thickens and the teeth age, they will gradually whiten. Maintain good oral hygiene and avoid foods/drinks that stain. See a pediatric dentist if the yellowing persists or you notice spots/staining.

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