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How do I safely achieve a whiter smile?

Remember Ross Geller from “Friends” and his glow in-the-dark teeth? Everyone at some point feels the pressure to have pearly whites, but sometimes it can be taken too far. Excessive teeth whitening can lead to dental decay and cavities due to the enamel break down. Consider enamel to be a tooth’s safeguard. It protects from cavities and helps to maintain healthy teeth. When that barrier gets broken the teeth become more susceptible to problems.

Some over-the-counter products are not as good as others and can speed up this process. When choosing a product ask your dentist or pharmacist for suggestions with over the counter purchases. Crest White Strips are a really good product, and for those who only have mild to light staining it will show results without harming the teeth and gums when used as directed.

For those who smoke or drink colas or coffee, their teeth may be more likely to become discolored faster or to a more extensive degree. In front of a mirror, if your teeth are darker in color than the whites of your eyes, you may benefit from your dentist’s home bleaching kit or an in-office bleaching with your dentist. The at home kit that the dentist would give you is a much higher concentration than the over-the-counter products, and therefore can give whiter results. Your dentist will fit you for specific trays that mold to your teeth & show you how to use the bleach at home. The procedure takes about 30 minutes and can be done a couple times per week until the desired results are achieved.

The in-office bleaching is even stronger yet. This bleaching method is done during an appointment with the dentist. The bleaching gel is applied to your teeth for about 10-15 minutes, then removed & reapplied until the desired results are achieved.

All methods can leave your teeth and gums feeling sensitive to hot and cold for several days afterwards and some maintenance is required to keep the teeth at your desired level of white. In moderation all the above methods are safe and effective. But, remember that if you are bleaching more than three times per week for several weeks that it can increase your risk of more dental problems, cavities, cracks, and decay, so use these products only as directed.

The First Dental Visit

The most common question I get from parents is, “when should I bring my child for his/her first dental visit.”

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a child’s first visit at age 1 or within 6 months of the eruption of their primary teeth.

The Academy uses the “dental home” concept as all aspects of oral health that involves the interaction of the patient, parents, non-dental professionals, and dental professionals.

This dental home should provide:
- comprehensive assessment for oral diseases and conditions;- individualized preventive dental health program based upon a caries-risk assessment and periodontal disease risk assessment;- anticipatory guidance about growth and development issues (ie, teething, digit or pacifier habits);- plan for acute dental trauma;- information about proper care of the child’s teeth and gingiva. This would include the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease of the supporting and surrounding tissues and maintenance of health, function, and esthetics of those structures and tissues;- dietary counseling;- referrrals to dental specialists when care cannot directly be provided within the dental home;- lastly, education regarding future referral to a dentist knowledgeable and comfortable with adult oral health issues for continuing oral health care; referral at an age determined by patient, parent, and pediatric dentist.

*Information above obtained from Pediatric Dentistry Vol 28 No 7 Reference Manual

Joseph W. Lopez, DMD, MPH Pediatric Dentist Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania