Teeth discoloration is common for plenty of reasons: lots of us are avid coffee and wine drinkers, some people smoke while others have naturally more yellow teeth, and of course, genetics can play a role too. Around 38% of people describe their teeth as "yellow," and there seem to be countless teeth-whitening solutions on the market.
But what are the actual implications of using teeth whitening products? Do they damage your teeth in the long run?
The short answer is: it depends. Generally speaking, there are two main teeth whitening options: professional and at-home. Each one comes with its own set of risks when it comes to damaging your teeth.
In this article, we'll closely examine each type of treatment and the potential teeth whitening side effects involved in each one. That way, you can decide what kind of treatment is best for your unique needs.
Do At-Home Teeth Whitening Products Damage Your Teeth?
According to dental professionals, teeth whitening kits are not harmful to your teeth. At-home teeth whitening solutions generally use either hydrogen or carbamide peroxide as an active ingredient in amounts of 10% to 38%. Both of these products are safe for your teeth in these concentrations and don't damage enamel as some other whitening ingredients can.
That said, "at-home" teeth whitening products can be dangerous if:
- You use them too much. This can lead to an overuse of the product and cause gum irritation, tooth sensitivity or tissue damage.
- The product you're using isn't regulated. Make sure that the American Dental Association approves whatever at-home product or method you choose.
- You don't follow the directions correctly. If you don’t read the directions and use too much of the product, it can lead to irritation and damage.
- You neglect to take into account any other health issues. If you suffer from dental hypersensitivity, gum disease, or have receding gums, you should exercise caution with at-home kits and get professional advice before use.
- You forego other oral hygeine practices. Even if you use teeth whitening products correctly, failing to brush twice daily and floss regularly can still negatively affect your teeth.
At-home dental whitening solutions also comprise numerous different methods.
Some of them include whitening strips, trays and pastes, brush-on gels, and activated charcoal toothpaste.
Recent studies have shown whitening toothpaste erodes tooth enamel. One study from the International Journal of Dental Hygiene determined that customers shouldn't use whitening toothpaste for more than four weeks at a time.
Most other products are safe to use, and the American Dental Association approves the commercialized ones you see in stores. But they are not the same as natural teeth whitening—they take drastic measures to whiten your teeth faster, and they are not meant to be part of your everyday routine.
Does Professional Teeth Whitening Damage Your Teeth?
At-home whitening solutions are generally recognized as safe, and under dental supervision, the same is true. In fact, using teeth whitening under the direction of a licensed dentist is often safer than using an over-the-counter (OTC) product.
And the results of professional whitening treatments can be much more dramatic and longer-lasting than what you'd get with an OTC solution.
In-office whitening protocols typically involve three components:
- A consultation with a licensed dentist to assess your oral health and determine the treatment plan that's right for you.
- A custom-fitted whitening tray, which is filled with a bleaching gel containing hydrogen or carbamide peroxide as an active ingredient.
- A series of treatments over several weeks to achieve the desired results. Professional whitening treatments are often monitored closely by your dentist to help ensure your teeth are not damaged.
The potential side effects of professional whitening are similar to those of at-home kits, but they can be more severe because the bleaching agents used in professional treatments are stronger.
However, you're also more likely to see results, as you will have direct advice from a professional on how to use the product correctly and what concentration of whitening agent to use.
Risks Of Teeth Whitening
If you want to get rid of yellow teeth using a whitening product, it's important to remember that the process isn't risk-free.
According to the ADA, adverse effects of teeth whitening include sensitivity, gum irritation, and tissue damage. Users also risk buying faulty products and using them incorrectly.
Hydrogen Peroxide Risks
If you use hydrogen peroxide for too long, it can cause tooth erosion. And a study from the American Journal of Dentistry found one hydrogen peroxide mouthwash to cause noticeable erosion to tooth enamel in just four weeks.
Some research has shown no significant difference between treated and untreated enamel strength in the long term, but it still points to the potential for damage.
The risks for hydrogen peroxide to harm your teeth are greater if you overuse your teeth whitening products. Even in smaller concentrations, longer-term use of or exposure to hydrogen peroxide products can still cause damage. This means that overnight solutions may cause more damage than the targeted ones administered at the dentist's office.
Enamel corrosion is another risk of whitening solutions—primarily in whitening toothpastes and some in-office treatments.
Whitening toothpaste, for example, primarily relies on the back-and-forth movement of a toothbrush to manually remove surface stains from the teeth.
The abrasive particles in the paste wear away at the enamel, leading to erosion and discoloration of the teeth over time.
In-office procedures like rubber cup prophylaxis and enamel sandblasting can also cause enamel erosion, and these can be more aggressive than the effects of whitening solutions.
Intrinsic Vs. Extrinsic Teeth Stains
Most OTC whitening products focus on extrinsic stains (i.e., what you can see on the surface of your teeth). Most of the time, extrinsic stains are caused by food, drinks, a lack of oral hygiene, and other external factors.
But intrinsic stains involve more than just whitening—they require more intensive professional care, such as bonding or veneers. Intrinsic stains may be caused by excessive use of certain medications (e.g., tetracycline), radiation therapy, or trauma to a tooth.
Extrinsic whitening treatments can have adverse effects on intrinsic parts of your tooth if you overuse them and allow them to penetrate too deeply. That's why we recommend talking to your dentist before using any whitening products and proceeding with caution, even though they are relatively harmless.
Of course, sensitivity is one of the most common side effects of whitening treatments. Even those who don't regularly suffer from tooth sensitivity can experience it during and after whitening treatments, due to the bleaching agents used.
For those with sensitive teeth, symptoms might be even worse. And for many of those people, whitening isn't an option simply because the pain is intolerable.
It's impossible to know how your teeth will react to whitening treatments before you use them. But if you know you have a history of severe tooth sensitivity, you might want to improve your smile another way.
Sensitive Gums To Chemicals
Gingival irritation is also a possibility when using whitening products. When your gums come into contact with certain bleaching agents, they can become inflamed, sore, and tender.
This is especially true if you already have gingivitis or periodontal disease. In these cases, the chemicals in whitening products can aggravate the condition even more.
When using teeth whiteners, it's important to remember that your dental health takes priority—these treatments should always be used in moderation and with a dentist's approval in addition to your regular hygiene routine.
Sometimes, the effectiveness of a whitening product depends on the individual. Some people simply don't respond to certain treatments, or they may not get the desired results in what was expected to be a short amount of time.
For example, if you have intrinsic stains (described above), your teeth might not lighten as much as with extrinsic stains even when using the same whitening products. And some teeth may lighten more than others and you might experience a patchy or uneven result.
Often, product failure is a result of one of the following problems:
- The product was not strong enough for the condition.
- The product wasn't used properly (e.g., it wasn't applied for long enough).
- The user continued to smoke, drink coffee, avoid brushing their teeth, or take other actions that could have canceled out the effects of the whitening product.
Teeth whitening costs are variable, but nobody wants to lose their money. To minimize this risk, always talk to your dentist before proceeding with any whitening treatments, and check the quality of the products you choose.
There are numerous benefits of white teeth: improved self-confidence, a more attractive smile, and an enhanced physical appearance are all potential outcomes of whitening treatments.
But it's important to remember that there are risks associated with these treatments as well. Overuse or misuse can lead to erosion of the enamel, sensitivity, and gum irritation if you use them carelessly. And if you forego your regular dental care routine, you might end up with more serious oral health issues than when you started.
That said, most people who whiten their teeth have no problems (aside from a little sensitivity) and are extremely satisfied with the results. So if you plan to use whitening treatments the way they are intended to be used, chances are you will achieve outstanding results.
Want to know more? Here are a few questions our customers frequently ask us:
Can You Whiten Your Teeth Without Damaging Them?
Most people whiten their teeth successfully with no damage. But there are risks associated with whitening, so it's important to be aware of those risks and take steps to reduce them. That includes talking to your dentist before you start any whitening treatments, reading product labels carefully, and not overusing or misusing the products.
Does Teeth Whitening Damage Your Gums?
In general, teeth whitening does not damage your gums per se. But if you already have gingivitis or periodontal disease, the chemicals used in whitening products can irritate your gums and make your condition worse. In these cases, it is better to fix your medical condition before considering whitening treatments.
Does Teeth Whitening Damage Your Oral Health?
When used according to product labels for the recommended timeframe, teeth whitening does not usually damage your oral health. However, overuse or misuse of these products can lead to sensitivity, erosion of the enamel, and gum irritation.
Could Teeth Whitening Kits Be Hurting My Teeth?
Sensitivity is a common side effect of whitening treatments, but this is usually temporary. If your sensitivity persists or becomes severe, it's important to stop using the whitening product and talk to your dentist about other options.
Overuse or misuse of these products can also lead to sensitivity, even in users who are don't normally have that problem.
Who Should Not Whiten Their Teeth?
Those who have serious dental health conditions like gum disease should focus on these problems before considering whitening treatments. Similarly, people with sensitive teeth should consult their dentist and use caution when choosing a product. Whitening products containing hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide can cause too much sensitivity in some patients.
How Do Dentists Whiten Teeth Safely?
Dentists use a variety of methods to safely whiten teeth. These include bleaching kits that contain higher concentrations of bleaching agents, professional laser treatments, and in-office treatments using custom trays.
These options have been proven safe when used according to the instructions provided by the dentist.
Does Teeth Whitening Damage Enamel?
Some forms of teeth whitening can occasionally cause enamel erosion. This is more likely to happen when the products are used incorrectly or for too long.
Are There Any Teeth Whitening Methods That Don’t Ruin Your Teeth?
Yes, several teeth whitening methods are safe and effective. The best way to ensure you don't damage your teeth is to follow product or dentist instructions meticulously, and talk to your dentist before starting any whitening treatments.