Is teeth whitening safe? You've probably searched for ways to get that million-dollar smile, but is it good for your teeth? The short answer is it's not inherently bad for your teeth, but you do need to take precautions and do it the right way to avoid damage.
We're going to dive deep into safe teeth whitening products and what you need to know before you brighten your smile.
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Causes of teeth stains
Maintaining a bright, white smile may not always be easy; however, the good news is there are safe ways to whiten teeth. There are two key reasons why your pearly whites transform into pearly yellows, namely intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) staining.
Extrinsic stains affect the external layer of the tooth (i.e., tooth enamel) and are caused by long-term activities such as smoking and drinking foods and drinks such as coffee, cola, and wine.
Extrinsic discoloration is easier to remove than intrinsic stains. This type of staining can be treated with safe teeth whitening options such as whitening toothpastes, whitening strips, and other at-home whitening products.
These stains are deep inside the tooth and affect the tooth's dentin, the tooth layer below the enamel. Intrinsic staining may result from medications, fluoride overexposure, infections, childhood diseases, old age, or oral trauma such as internal bleeding.
Internal staining is harder to treat and requires some professional intervention. Some safe teeth whitening options include veneers and dental bonding.
How do teeth whitening products work?
Most teeth whitening products contain hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), released as hydrogen peroxide or carbon peroxide. When applied, the peroxide reacts and leads to a lighter surface color.
Some safe teeth whitening products may also contain sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl), which has a similar reaction process.
Teeth whitening products will not have an adverse affect on your oral health if you use them correctly. However, teeth whitening may cause some tooth sensitivity in some people. Having sensitive teeth doesn't mean that you can't have whiter teeth. There are whitening products formulated specifically for people with sensitive teeth.
Dentists do not recommend whitening for children younger than 14.
Safe teeth whitening methods
There are many effective and safe ways to whiten your teeth.
Monitor your diet
Food and beverages can lead to teeth discoloration. Tannin, a chemical commonly found in coffee and red wine, may result in staining. Acidic foods can potentially wear down the protective covering of your teeth, leaving them susceptible to stains. Some of the most common staining culprits are:
- Red wine: This contains tannins, acids, and natural dyes, which may leave behind a soft purplish hue that can turn brown over time.
- Coffee and tea: Tannins in tea and coffee result in a yellowish hue.
- Cola: Acids in cola wear away teeth enamel.
- Fruits: Dark-colored fruits such as cranberries, blueberries, and purple grapes may result in stains.
Brush regularly, and rinse your mouth after consuming acidic or staining food.
Whitening toothpaste generally contains hydrogen peroxide or other compounds that oxidize and break down stains. Brushing twice a day with a whitening toothpaste for a few weeks may start to show results. However, whitening toothpastes generally only affect extrinsic stains. Stubborn intrinsic stains will require a more robust whitening treatment.
Another safe way to whiten teeth is with a type of product called ‘whitening strips.' A whitening strip is a clear strip that adheres to your teeth and dissolves slowly, releasing peroxide gel, which whitens your teeth — but not right away.
Teeth whitening strips must be worn for the prescribed amount of time every day for one to two weeks. Some brands have you wear them for 10 minutes a day, while other brands have you wear them for up to 30 minutes.
Whitening gels are clear and peroxide-based, and are applied directly to the surface of your teeth with a small brush or pen-like device. Directions vary based on the product and strength of the whitening product.
One way to reduce dental plaque and gum disease is by using a whitening rinse or mouthwash. These rinses are designed to reduce the number of bacteria in your mouth, freshen your breath, and gradually whiten your teeth.
Tray-based tooth whitening techniques involve filling a mouthguard-like tray with peroxide-based gel. The trays are worn for a certain amount of time every day until the recommended treatment time is complete.
What are the side effects of teeth whitening?
Side effects from teeth whitening products are rare as long as products are applied correctly and without overusing them. Overuse of teeth whiteners might cause some mild side effects.
The most common active components in tooth whitening solutions are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. Higher doses are found in treatments prescribed by your dentist, whether it's an in-office procedure or take-home whitening trays. If the bleach comes into contact with your gums, it may irritate them.
Extra precautions are taken to protect your gum tissue during in-office procedures, and a protective gel is used. On the other hand, at-home trays will be customized for each patient, so minimal gel touches their gums.
Many people experience tooth sensitivity as a side effect of tooth bleaching. The ADA says this is because peroxide can cause inflammation in the pulp, leading to pain and swelling at the application site. Other factors include the presence of restorations and product concentration. Sometimes this sensitivity is temporary and due to dehydration.
Research shows that whitening treatments may have adverse effects on dental restorations. Teeth whitening is an effective way to make your smile brighter, but it's also important that you follow the manufacturer’s or dentist’s recommendations with any whitening product.
How to maintain results
Teeth whitening is not permanent. After you’ve completed any whitening treatment, your teeth are still susceptible to staining from beverages like tea and coffee and certain foods, which leads us back toward maintaining good oral hygiene habits.
Yes, teeth whitening is a safe and effective way to brighten your smile. Use dentist-approved methods and always follow directions for any products you buy. And enjoy whiter teeth!