Teeth whitening procedures are becoming increasingly popular as more and more products pop up on your social media feed. In many cases they are promoted by influencers with no dental background and are also being sold or applied by those with no formal dental training.
So how safe is teeth whitening?
That depends on what is being used to whiten your teeth, the condition of your teeth to begin with, and the care and attention of the person performing or supplying the whitening procedure.
Before we understand the process and safety of whitening, it is important to note what has caused the tooth to become darker in the first place.
Darkness can be caused by:
- Surface staining – a thicker physical coating of something on the tooth – eg tea deposits, tobacco residue etc
- Teeth that have gone darker due to injury or root canal treatments
- Old fillings or crowns that stain, especially around the edges
- Thinning or dissolving of the whiter outside enamel layer showing the darker dentine underneath. (Caused by acid erosion or heavy brushing)
- Staining of the tooth caused by medication or developmental irregularities
- General colour changes to the tooth and deeper penetrative staining of coffee, tea, red wine etc
- The natural colour of your teeth
Therefore, having the correct diagnosis and explanation of the issues is critical to get the desired result and avoid complications.
It is also important to have realistic expectations of what whitening can do. It is going to give your teeth a nice boost in colour, but it is not likely to give you the perfect Hollywood smile that may only be achievable with porcelain veneers.
When it comes to advertising, typically only the best and brightest results are displayed.
Is teeth whitening safe for your circumstances?
Once the cause of the issue is established, it is then important to apply the correct treatment in a safe way. The most common and proven way to whiten teeth is to use a peroxide-based whitening gel that is held in close contact with the tooth surface.
The strength of the gel influences how effective it is, and how likely you are to get unpleasant side effects.
An important thing to note is that peroxide in a mild concentration causes no lasting damage to the nerve or to the enamel structure. Put simply it will not damage your tooth. However, it is likely to cause some temporary sensitivity and some irritation to your gums.
High concentration gels (used for rapid tooth whitening dental surgeries, and increasingly seen in shopping mall kiosks and beautician’s offices) are much more likely to cause moderate to severe sensitivity. Whilst this typically fades after about a week (with the help of desensitising toothpastes) it can be particularly unpleasant. There is also an increased risk of pain, irritation and bleaching of the gums. Systems that use lights aim to enhance the effects of the whitening gel by heating it. This can also increase discomfort. The whitening effect also fades more quickly meaning that whilst you might get a great result initially, you will likely need to whiten again sooner. There are also plenty of studies that show the light systems have little or no impact on the outcome.
Low and slow is the go!
Milder formulations of whitening gel (typically used in take home kits) are safer and less likely to have acute side effects. What is nice to know is that with correct use and compliance, the results from your at home kit are also as good, if not better than instant whitening. The added bonus is that the kits are less expensive, and you can buy refills of the product to maintain your teeth into the future.
Is teeth whitening safe? Not all whitening gels are the same, and many have the risk of causing harm.
There is the real risk that some could damage or dissolve the enamel of your teeth if they are acidic, or not manufactured by a reputable, experienced and compliant company. In these scenarios it is not the peroxide causing harm, but other ingredients in the formulation that are the issue. Your tooth enamel is a precious substance, so ensuring the product has a neutral pH is essential.
A trained dental professional is also important when administering the product. Not only will they be able to identify areas that may not respond to whitening, they can also look for areas where sensitivity is likely. In our experience, whitening trays made specifically to the shape of the individual’s mouth allows safe, effective, targeted and economical whitening and a smile you can maintain for years to come.