What Does Teeth Whitening Do to Your Teeth?

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June 23, 2016

In recent decades, teeth whitening treatments have become more mainstream in cosmetic dentistry. From toothpastes to dental trays, the oral aesthetic treatments for whiter teeth now generate millions of dollars each year. New whitening products are released regularly, and the industry shows no sign of slowing down.

But are these whitening products safe for your teeth? How do the whitening chemicals affect your teeth? Here are the answers to your teeth whitening questions.

Types of Whitening

Most of today’s teeth whitening treatments use one of two materials: hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. These bleaching agents help lighten your teeth at a deeper level.

Most at-home and dentist-supervised whitening products are limited to 10 percent hydrogen peroxide. Very few products are that potent, however. Many keep their levels lower to reduce the risk of side effects.

Treatments administered in the dentist office often contain greater levels of the bleaching agent peroxide. These products may have peroxide concentrations ranging from 15 to 40 percent. Your dentist may also use a light or laser system, which can accelerate whitening.

Treatments with a higher dose of peroxide have been shown to cause additional side effects. Stronger doses of the active whitening chemical may cause greater sensitivity and damage to tissues. People who misuse or abuse a teeth whitening product may experience greater side effects.

Learn more about the pros and cons of the most popular whitening treatments and find out which one might be best for you and your teeth.

Toothpastes and Rinses

Pros: Toothpastes are natural teeth whiteners because they contain abrasives designed to buff stains from your teeth. Their mild whitening abilities can lighten your teeth by about one shade. Whitening toothpastes may also help you maintain any whitening achieved using other bleaching techniques. In addition to lightly bleaching your teeth, rinses may help reduce bad breath and kill germs.

Cons: Whitening toothpastes do not contain bleach. The paste’s polishers or chemical agents can only remove surface stains, so their whitening effects are limited. Unlike toothpastes, rinses do actually contain hydrogen peroxide. However, whitening rinses are only in contact with your teeth for a short period of time (about two minutes per day). They may not be as effective as other over-the-counter whitening options, and you may not see results for several months.

RELATED Best Toothpastes for Whitening Your Teeth

Whitening Strips

Pros: These very thin strips are coated with a peroxide-based gel. Most strips are applied twice a day for 30 minutes, and a typical strip treatment lasts 10 to 14 days.

Cons: The results take a few days to show up, and they are likely to remain for about four months. The more you use whitening strips, the more likely you are to experience tooth or gum sensitivity.

Paste and Trays

Pros: Trays allow for maximum contact between your teeth and the whitening agent. Custom-fit trays are also an option. Most of these are available from a dentist’s office.

Cons: Trays can be ill-fitting, and the “one-size-fits-all” approach of DIY bleaching trays often leaves patients with exposed gums and tissues. This allows the whitening gel to slip out of the tray and irritate the nearby tissue. For best results, trays often need to be worn for several hours a day for two to four weeks. Some specific tray brands may recommend a maximum time of one hour per day.

In-Office Whitening

Pros: An in-office treatment allows your dentist to make all efforts to protect your teeth and gums from possible side effects. Your dentist may apply a protective gel or rubber shield over your soft tissues to prevent exposure to the whitening agent. The concentration of peroxide is also much greater than the in-home and dentist-supervised whitening products, so you only need one treatment. In-office bleaching treatments can lighten your teeth three to eight shades.

Cons: Compared to over-the-counter bleaching treatments, these in-office whitening options are often much more expensive. They are also rarely covered by dental or health insurance.

Side Effects of Whitening

Most in-office or doctor-prescribed whitening treatments cause very few serious complications. In fact, the two most common side effects are irritation in the gums and tissue around your teeth and increased sensitivity in your teeth. Both of these side effects are likely to disappear within a few days of stopping or finishing the whitening treatment. Speak with your doctor if the side effects continue.

Where You Shouldn’t Get Whitening Treatments

In recent years, the whitening trend has spread beyond at-home treatments and dentist offices to stand-alone whitening businesses in malls, spas, and salons. Unfortunately, not every state requires that teeth whitening treatments be conducted in a facility where trained dental staff are working. For that reason, you should be cautious about who does your whitening. Ask to see the person’s credentials, and if you don’t feel comfortable, seek out a dentist or medical professional for guidance on finding the right treatment option and facility for you.

Should I Whiten?

Teeth whitening can hide or mask discolored teeth, but whitening will not stop dental issues that may be responsible for the teeth coloration. That’s why you should check with your dentist before beginning a teeth whitening program. You don’t have to use a program that your dentist offers, but stained teeth may be a sign of a bigger problem. Asking your dentist for the go-ahead on whitening allows him or her to do a physical exam and possibly find underlying problems that may be causing the discoloration problem.

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