Two proven techniques for whitening adult teeth -- enamel microabrasion and dental bleaching -- are now being used to brighten the discolored teeth of children.
"Children's teeth can become stained, spotted or streaked as a result of high fevers, acquired genetic traits, decalcification of the enamel minerals, tetracycline use or excessive use of fluoride," says Susan Sup-Barnes, D.D.S., a general dentist. "Discoloration of any kind can be devastating to a child's self-esteem."
To safely lighten a tooth, one treatment of choice is dentist-supervised "home bleaching," says Dr. Sup-Barnes. This technique uses a special peroxide gel in a custom-fit tray that can be placed in the mouth for up to two hours daily during a one-month period or used overnight for approximately 10 days, depending on the recommendation of the dentist.
"To remove spots or superficial enamel color defects, enamel microabrasion is preferred," says Dr. Sup-Barnes. "This technique involves the use of a dental handpiece that repeatedly applies a special acidic compound to lightly abrade tooth surfaces, giving the enamel a smooth, glazed surface that has been clinically shown to resist acids and plaque better than nontreated surfaces. Treatment usually is successful in one to two office visits.
"Both techniques have proved to be safe and highly effective," says Dr. Sup-Barnes. She warns, however, that bleaching can cause tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. "Parents and children also should be aware that neither treatment choice is permanent. The spots and discoloration can become less noticeable through microabrasion or bleaching, but through the years, teeth can become discolored again."
Home bleaching is best suited for children age 11 and older," concludes Dr. Sup-Barnes. "Enamel microabrasion can be used for children as young as six or seven years of age."
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