An adult who happens to drink a lot of tea and coffee or smokes cigarettes may expect to find themselves with stained and discolored teeth. Kids, on the other hand, should have nice white teeth, right? It doesn’t always work out that way. There are a number of things that can cause a child’s teeth to be discolored. Are over-the-counter teeth-whitening products safe for kids and teens? Let’s find out.
Why are your kids teeth discolored?
Mayo Clinic describes several things that can make your child’s deciduous, or baby teeth, the wrong color. The number one cause of discolored baby teeth is inadequate or improper brushing. Kids are notorious for eating sticky snacks that can easily adhere to the teeth. Sweets and sticky foods that are not properly brushed away are an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, and that can cause dull yellow stains.
Certain medications and supplements can cause teeth stains, too. Iron supplements are known to cause dark spots on baby teeth. Moms who are prescribed the antibiotic tetracycline during pregnancy may notice darker than normal teeth in their children, as well. Baby teeth that seem to be tinted pink or gray may be the result of injury to the gums. Kids who drink fluoridated water or formula mixed with the same may show white streaks on their teeth.
How to prevent discolored baby teeth
The best way to ensure your child has a beautiful, white smile is to teach them about brushing their teeth as soon as they have them. Until your child can spit on demand, it’s best that a parent be in charge of daily brushing. Begin with a very soft toothbrush, and use the tiniest dab of fluoride toothpaste. If your child’s teeth are stained due to sticky foodstuffs, put a bit of baking soda on a soft washcloth and give those little teeth a firm but gentle scrubbing. You might be amazed at how much gunk you rub off your kid’s teeth.
Never, ever let your baby fall asleep while drinking a bottle. Doing so bathes the teeth in juice or formula overnight and encourages bacterial growth that can even lead to early tooth decay. If you give your toddler a pacifier, avoid dipping it in honey or anything sweet.
What about teenage teeth?
Teach your child to enjoy the feel of a nice clean mouth when they’re little, and you will establish good habits that will last a lifetime. By the time your kid has all of their “grown up” teeth, they will understand the health and social benefits of regular teeth brushing. Teenagers are generally old enough to undergo professional teeth cleaning. If you’re in Colorado, you’ll be happy to know that Paul Corcoran DDS does teeth whitening in the Vail Valley of Colorado.
So, are whitening products safe for kids and teens?
Probably not. Experts at the Colgate toothpaste company recommend against using whitening strips on young kids’ teeth. Whitening strips and home bleaching kits contain more hydrogen peroxide than you may realize. There’s also the problem of reading and understanding the directions that come with over-the-counter teeth whitening products. Whereas an adult may comprehend the directions, kids cannot be expected to fully understand and follow packaging directions. Typically, home whitening products are meant to remain on the teeth for up to an hour, and they must never be swallowed. That’s a very long time for a little child to hold still and avoid swallowing. If your small child’s teeth are stained enough to require professional quality whitening, go ahead and schedule an appointment for them with a pediatric dentist.
As far as teen use of home whitening products, Colgate offers a mixed answer. If a teen is mature enough to understand and precisely follow product directions, they may use teeth whitening strips carefully. Be sure to caution your child about leaving the strips on for too long. Bleaching agents can cause severe irritation in any mouth of any age, so be sure to monitor your teen’s use of whitening strips or trays.
A healthy diet and proper brushing habits will ensure that your children start life with the prettiest smile possible. Teach your kids to spend at least two minutes brushing their teeth twice a day, and they may thank you for the great habit when they’re older.
Jeannie Wise works as a dental assistant at a pediatric dentist office. A Mom herself, she uses her maternal as well as professional knowledge to write articles about kids and their teeth.