Home tooth-whitening strips are an inexpensive and easy option for anyone bothered by yellowing or stains. While they've been around for a while and are regarded as safe for most adults, the jury's still out on whether children should use them.
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At-home bleaching is accomplished by applying adhesive strips containing an oxidizing agent such as hydrogen peroxide. They are applied twice daily for 14 days. Another system uses a small brush to apply a peroxide-based gel directly to the teeth.
Testing the Product
Clinical trials in 2004 tested whitening strips on 132 children and adolescents, and found that the strips were effective and caused only mild sensitivity. Later research reported that between half and a third of all patients -- adults and children -- did report sensitivity, and that children were more likely than adults to feel the discomfort. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, which did the report, also expressed concern that adolescents and teens might use the product excessively. The AAPD said more study is needed before determining an age at which the product is safe.
Making a Decision
Many dentists don't recommend whitening strips for patients younger than 16 or for pregnant or lactating women. Some products, including Crest 3D Whitestrips, include a caution that the product is not for use for children younger than 12, and that Crest Whitestrips Supreme -- available only from dentists -- should not be used by anyone younger than 18. The bottom line: Check with your child's dentist before using any whitening product.