Is it safe to whiten your teeth?
Yes! There is an overwhelming majority of evidence that indicates whitening is both safe and effective for most people. The major side effect of whitening is sensitivity after bleaching, which is generally temporary and quickly resolves. It is important to note that white teeth are not necessarily healthy teeth. You should see your dentist regularly to ensure that your teeth are healthy enough to whiten. It is not a good idea to whiten your teeth if you have cavities or gum disease, as this may exacerbate existing issues.
What causes tooth discoloration?
The majority of stains on teeth can be prevented with routine home care, such as good brushing and flossing habits. However, even with excellent oral hygiene, it is possible to develop staining over time. Tobacco use, coffee, tea, chocolate, and red wine are major culprits. Other causes of staining can be more complicated to prevent. Certain medications can contribute to changes in tooth coloring, especially when used during tooth formation. Further, some cancer treatments can cause changes in teeth, including changes in coloring.
How does whitening work?
The whitening process is quite simple. Essentially, a peroxide gel is used to break-up stains and discolorations that go deep within the tooth. With repeated applications, this causes your teeth to whiten as stains are removed and bleached away.
What types of whitening are available?
The most commonly used whitening agents are simply toothpastes! These pastes remove surface staining on the teeth by physically abrading away the stains. When used regularly, a toothpaste can significantly reduce the amount of staining deposited on teeth. They are not effective at penetrating into the tooth to remove deeper stains or at changing the intrinsic coloring of a tooth.
There are two types of peroxide commonly used to bleach teeth: hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. One is not inherently better than the other. They are used in different forms and the percentages can be misleading when comparing percentage strengths of the products to each another.
Over-the-counter products contain low concentrations of bleaching agents. When used correctly they are effective at bleaching teeth a few shades. Unfortunately, these one-size-fits-all products are not suitable for everyone. Getting bleaching gel onto the gum tissue or exposed root surfaces of teeth can cause gingival burns and tooth sensitivity respectively. At our office we can fabricate custom fit trays to apply bleaching gel only where desired or needed. Our take-home trays contain higher strength gels than are available over-the-counter. Higher strength gels are used for shorter periods of time and whiten faster than the lower strengths, but can lead to more sensitivity if overused.
In-office bleaching is the highest strength and fastest whitening option available. Special gels are used to protect the gum tissue and to help reduce post-operative sensitivity of the teeth. Most patients experience some level of sensitivity after in-office bleaching for a short period of time. It is important to note that lower strength bleaching gels can be used for longer periods – even overnight on occasion – and are less likely to cause sensitivity than the higher strengths.
What about natural options?
It is important to remember that natural does not always mean safe or effective. Using anything that is too acidic, such as lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, may initially appear to whiten teeth. But when used over an extended period, these acids will destroy tooth enamel – the outer layer of the tooth – and expose the inner dentin layer. Dentin is significantly yellower than enamel and is not as resistant to cavities.
Other popular natural whitening trends include baking soda pastes and charcoal pastes. Note that anything abrasive will remove surface staining and appear to whiten teeth – this is exactly how toothpaste works! But because these products are unregulated, we have no way of knowing how abrasive they can be. Over a long period of time, using pastes that are too abrasive, too acidic, or brushing too hard can remove the outer enamel layer of the tooth.
That’s not to say that products like baking soda don’t have a place in dentistry. There are toothpastes available with baking soda that have earned the ADA Seal of Approval. You can be sure that these pastes are effective at reducing cavities and are safe to use. To find a list of toothpastes that have earned the ADA seal, please see the following:
ADA Seal of Approval Products
For more information, please see the following: