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Considering tooth whitening? Start with a healthy mouth

If you want to whiten your teeth, the best place to start is with a healthy mouth.

Tooth decay, sensitive or cracked teeth, infections or periodontal problems should be diagnosed and treated before any tooth whitening procedure. Otherwise, you could experience discomfort. The whitening process may aggravate existing problems, or the whitening process simply may not be right for you.

Rather than heading to the local cosmetic counter or shopping mall in search of tooth whiteners, start with a dental checkup. Your dentist can evaluate, diagnose and treat any pressing oral health conditions and advise you about different options to safely and effectively whiten your teeth.

Your dentist also can determine whether whitening will work for you. When the dentist diagnoses the cause of the discoloration — injury, stains from food or tobacco, antibiotic treatment as a child or other causes — a suitable tooth-whitening method or product can be selected. The diagnosis is important; otherwise, you could be wasting time and money because whitening treatments work only on natural tooth enamel, not on crowns, veneers, bonding materials or tooth-colored fillings.

Many tooth whiteners are advertised on Web sites, television infomercials and the radio, as well as in magazines and newspapers. The American Dental Association recommends that if you choose to have your teeth whitened or use a bleaching product, you should do so only after consulting with a dentist. If the chemicals used to whiten teeth are not applied properly, they could damage soft and hard tissues in the mouth.

Recently, tooth-whitening kiosks have appeared in malls and salons. In at least one state, these kiosks have been banned. Although they may be staffed with people wearing "scrubs" or laboratory coats who may look like health care professionals, that often is not the case. Staff running the tooth-whitening kiosk may have no health care training and no license to provide health care services. However, they are dispensing chemicals that could permanently affect your teeth and gums.

White, bright teeth are desirable, but having a healthy smile is more important. Your dentist can help you achieve not only a whiter, more attractive smile, but one that is healthy and contributes to your overall health.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

3/30/2009

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