Q. After having my baby, I completely ignored my teeth and now they're not as white as I'd like. Is at-home bleaching a safe option?
A. Yes, so long as you're not breastfeeding or pregnant again -- there's been no research on the effects of bleaching agents on unborn or nursing babies. Moms who have untreated cavities, a cracked tooth, or receding gums should also skip the process. "The bleaching material could seep inside and potentially damage nerves," says Kimberly Harms, a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association.
Even if bleaching is safe for you, it's not uncommon for your teeth to feel a little achy for a day or two once the treatment starts; you may also be sensitive to hot and cold foods for up to a month. You'll want to let your dentist know about any discomfort you feel.
The greatest concern with the whitening process: bleaching longer or more frequently than the recommended period. "That's when people tend to get in trouble with tooth damage, hypersensitivity, or gum soreness," Harms says. So follow those instructions and visit your dentist before you start the process to make sure your teeth are in good shape, and that you have the procedure or over-the-counter product that's best for your own teeth.