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April 8, 2019

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dr. J. Peter St. Clair, DMD @ 3:53 pm

In this age of reality TV and other unrealistic propaganda, many people, including teenagers, are making changes to improve their appearance. And for teenagers, physical appearance is an important element of peer pressure. When it comes to the desire for whiter teeth however, age does play a role.

Whether teeth whitening is done by a dentist or with over-the-counter products, no one under the age of 14 should be whitening their teeth. Even though all the permanent teeth may be in by this age, teeth are still developing. Once the permanent teeth have erupted into the mouth, called active eruption, you may notice that the teeth look short. It takes time for the gum tissue to recede, called passive eruption, and the teeth to get to their final size.

 In some people, this passive eruption doesn’t completely happen and the teeth still look short. Sometimes this is referred to as a “gummy” smile. There are many reasons for showing excess gum tissue and the solutions for that are a subject for a different column.

However, if teeth are bleached prior to this passive eruption completely taking place, the teeth can end up being two-toned. Although this can usually be corrected, it is best to wait until the entire eruption process is completed. Once an adolescent has reached 15 or 16, if a parent and their child decide that they would like the teeth to be whiter, they can discuss the options with their dentist.

There are many different ways to whiten the teeth. Some of the over-the-counter products will work to some degree. They work especially well on young teeth or those that are more yellow. However, the safest and most effective way to whiten the teeth, especially teeth that are older or greyer, is under the supervision of a dentist.

Many people will Google products they can buy over the internet to whiten their teeth. If you have ever done this, you know there are many products that are sold with the addition of an ultraviolet light. Clinical studies show that this type of bleaching is no more effective than traditional whitening with trays and gel. The light may cause more dehydration in the teeth which will produce an appearance that the teeth are lighter, but this is usually not sustainable.

My experience is that professional tray bleaching with properly made trays and proper technique is the most effective. Some patients will be able to achieve dramatic results in only a week of daily bleaching. Others may require longer periods of time to achieve the desired result.

Advances in methods and materials with the whitening process have come a long way. There are predictable ways to lighten even the darkest teeth. There is nothing wrong with wanting lighter teeth. Dr. St. Clair maintains a private dental practice in Rowley and Newburyport dedicated to health-centered family dentistry. If there are certain topics you would like to see written about or questions you have please email them to him at You can view all previously written columns at

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