Teeth whitening is one of the most sought-after procedures in the dental industry. And it's easy to see why—in addition to the importance of oral health, the aesthetic aspect of having a bright and healthy smile is essential for many individuals.
Whether or not you know much about oral care, there's a good chance you've seen plenty of home teeth whitening "solutions" on TikTok, YouTube, and blogs all over the internet. Some of these come and go or prove to be made-up, but hydrogen peroxide has been a long-standing fixture in DIY teeth whitening. And it actually works.
But is it safe? The short answer is yes, but there are some key things to consider before using hydrogen peroxide to keep your teeth white.
What Is Hydrogen Peroxide, And How Does It Whiten Teeth?
Hydrogen peroxide is a colorless liquid with a slightly pungent smell. It's a common household antiseptic that is used to treat minor cuts and scrapes, as well as to disinfect surfaces. It is also a natural bleaching agent.
When it comes to teeth whitening, hydrogen peroxide works by breaking down tooth stains and discoloration caused by coffee, smoking, aging, and other causes of tooth discoloration. The oxygen molecules in the liquid bleach penetrate deep into the enamel of your teeth, destroying the molecules that cause staining. Since teeth are porous (i.e., they have lots of tiny holes in them), hydrogen peroxide can open them up, seep down into the enamel, and bleach them.
Since most households have hydrogen peroxide, it became known as one of the best at-home teeth whitening solutions. Since its discovery, countless studies have been conducted to evaluate its safety and efficacy.
Is Hydrogen Peroxide Safe For Teeth Whitening?
Usually, store-bought whitening products contain hydrogen peroxide in low concentrations (around 3-5%). However, US regulations permit over-the-counter products to have as much as 10% hydrogen peroxide. When used in low concentrations, hydrogen peroxide is safe to use for whitening teeth.
Dental practitioners are allowed to have much higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, usually up to 40%. Since they are administered in a controlled setting, these higher concentrations can be considered safe.
At the levels administered by dentists in controlled settings and sold over the counter at stores, the ADA considers hydrogen peroxide to be safe. However, it's important to remember that teeth are delicate and can be easily damaged. This study found both higher concentrations and frequency of hydrogen peroxide use to be associated with an increased risk of side effects, such as enamel erosion, tooth sensitivity, and gum irritation.
So while hydrogen peroxide is generally considered safe for teeth whitening, it's important to use it as intended and avoid overusing it.
How To Use Hydrogen Peroxide As A Teeth Whitener
Hydrogen peroxide is versatile as a household product, and the same is true as a teeth-bleaching agent. It has several different use cases, including:
- Whitening Toothpaste: Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most common additives in whitening toothpaste. This special kind of toothpaste is designed specifically to get rid of surface stains on teeth.
- Teeth Whitening Strips: These strips typically contain hydrogen peroxide, as well as other whitening agents like sodium bicarbonate. When applied to the teeth, these strips dissolve and release the whitening agents into the enamel, which then work to break down discoloration and brighten teeth.
- Whitening Gel: This type of whitening product often comes in a kit and contains either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, which is a bleaching agent that breaks down into hydrogen peroxide when it comes into contact with saliva. The gel is applied directly to the teeth using a small brush or swab, and the hydrogen peroxide works by bleaching away surface stains and discoloration. You can purchase these products at drug stores or you can work with a dentist to get a professional whitening treatment.
- Teeth Whitening Kits: Whitening kits contain either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide, as well as other ingredients to help enhance the whitening process. They usually come with instructions on how to apply the product correctly. Like whitening gels, they are sold over the counter as general products or as custom whitening solutions through dental professionals.
- Laser Teeth Whitening: Often, the first step in the laser whitening process is to apply a gel containing hydrogen peroxide to the teeth. This helps open up the pores in the enamel, allowing the laser energy to penetrate more deeply into the tooth structure and whiten it from within.
The type of treatment you choose and the amount of hydrogen peroxide you use will depend on your teeth sensitivity (if any), the level of discoloration you have, and how much time you want to spend on the whitening process. In any case, it's best to consult with your dentist before attempting any kind of teeth whitening procedure.
Side Effects Of Hydrogen Peroxide Teeth Whitening
Data accumulated over the last twenty years shows hydrogen peroxide to be safe for teeth whitening. But that same data also uncovers numerous side effects associated with it, primarily around the use of higher concentrations and an increased frequency of use.
1. Tooth And Gum Sensitivity
Sensitivity is the most common side effect reported by those using hydrogen peroxide. Because hydrogen peroxide is a bleaching agent, it can cause tooth enamel to become thinner and more porous over time—making it easier for the nerve endings in the teeth to be exposed, thus causing sensitivity and pain.
Many teeth whitening patients end up experiencing some amount of sensitivity while using hydrogen peroxide, which can range from mild to severe. In this EU case study, 44% of patients reported some level of tooth sensitivity, but only 6% reported adverse effects beyond that.
Patients who suffer from teeth sensitivity after teeth cleaning or during regular dental care should work with a dental professional to create a custom whitening product that suits them. That way, they don't have to worry about exacerbating their existing condition.
2. Irritated Or Inflamed Gums
Gum sensitivity is another common side effect associated with hydrogen peroxide. It is usually the result of more intensive hydrogen peroxide treatments in which the gel is applied directly to the teeth. In these cases, some of the concentrated peroxide gel comes into contact with the gums, leading to inflammation and irritation.
This can happen with in-office whitening as well—when dentists apply peroxide to the teeth and treat it with heat or light, there is sometimes a small afflicted area where patients feel discomfort and inflammation.
3. Enamel Erosion
Some sources say that peroxide treatments don't erode tooth enamel, while others suggest that prolonged use over time can cause erosion. It is generally agreed upon, however, that the more concentrated the hydrogen peroxide solution and the longer it is left on the teeth, the greater the chances of enamel erosion occurring.
Enamel erosion isn't something to take lightly, either. It can lead to tooth decay, discoloration, and other significant damage if left untreated.
4. Dehydration Of The Teeth
Teeth dehydration happens when a bleaching agent, such as hydrogen peroxide, is applied to the teeth. It works by drawing out moisture and water from the tooth enamel, making them less porous and hardening the tooth's surface. This makes it more resistant to staining and helps whiten teeth over time.
Teeth dehydration can also make your teeth sensitive or dry after whitening treatments. To help avoid this, many dentists recommend using a desensitizing treatment immediately following a whitening session that contains chemicals to block nerve signals from getting through to the enamel surface of the teeth.
5. Chemical Burns
High concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can cause chemical burns on the gums and soft tissues in the mouth. These are usually caused by a lack of supervision when using an at home whitening kit or bleaching trays that contain hydrogen peroxide.
In some cases, chemical burns may happen in the dentist's office as well—the protective tray that’s used to keep the whitening agent off the gums can sometimes fail. To protect gums from chemical burns, make sure not to move, close your mouth, or swallow the gel while it’s in your mouth.
What About Hydrogen Peroxide Alternatives For Teeth Whitening?
There are plenty of teeth whitening options for those who don’t want to go the traditional route, some of which are equally as effective as hydrogen peroxide.
Others are based on anecdotal evidence, but can still work for some people.
Here are some of the most essential hydrogen peroxide alternatives for whitening teeth:
1. Carbamide Peroxide
Carbamide peroxide is similar to hydrogen peroxide, and it is often used interchangeably. It is available in similar concentrations in many over-the-counter and professional whitening products. Although it is generally seen as a safe alternative, carbamide peroxide can also cause similar side effects to hydrogen peroxide if not used correctly.
2. Baking Soda
Baking soda has been used as a natural teeth whitening agent for a long time, and it is one of the most popular alternatives to hydrogen peroxide. You can find it processed into numerous toothpastes at the store, or you can make your own teeth whitening paste using baking soda and water.
Baking soda has also proven to work well for users, but it is a bit abrasive and can cause enamel erosion if it is used too often. Like hydrogen peroxide, it should only be used sparingly and as directed.
3. Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is made from burning coconut shells or similar materials into a fine powder, and a recent trend has popped up around using it for teeth whitening. While there is some evidence to suggest that activated charcoal can help remove surface-level stains from the teeth, large amounts of evidence say the opposite.
4. Regular Brushing And Flossing
People often overlook their regular routines when considering teeth whitening solutions, but it is important to remember that these are the most effective methods for keeping your smile healthy and bright. Teeth bleaching and whitening solutions aren't substitutes for proper oral hygiene, and they should only be used as complementary measures.
Proper brushing and flossing can reduce plaque buildup, keep your gums healthy, and get rid of surface-level stains from your teeth. Since it is a necessity for your dental health, it will also help you get the most out of any other whitening solutions that you may be trying.
5. Lifestyle Changes
Most people drink coffee, wine, tea, or all of the above. And there are plenty of people who smoke cigarettes. What goes into your mouth has a profound effect on the color of your teeth, and reducing or even eliminating these habits can have a positive impact on the brightness of your smile.
Here are a few ideas to get started:
- Drink coffee, tea, and other dark-colored beverages through a straw whenever possible.
- Replace your dark-colored beverages with white tea, sparkling water, and other lighter drinks.
- Limit sugary food and drinks as much as possible.
- Quit smoking or use a nicotine patch if you are having trouble quitting.
- Rinse your mouth with water after drinking wine or coffee.
- Avoid highly acidic foods that can weaken the enamel on your teeth.
If you want to improve your smile without giving some of these things up, you can minimize their impact on your tooth color by brushing your teeth immediately after consumption.
Want to know more? Here are a few questions our customers frequently ask us:
Is It Safe To Use Hydrogen Peroxide As A Mouthwash?
Using hydrogen peroxide is dangerous as a mouthwash and is not recommended for use for this purpose. Hydrogen peroxide can damage the delicate tissues in your mouth, cause internal bleeding if swallowed, and burn your internal organs. You can realize the same benefits of teeth bleaching when you use peroxide-based products.
Is Hydrogen Peroxide Safe For The Mouth?
When it comes to teeth whitening safety, hydrogen peroxide is generally considered safe for use in the mouth. However, it should only be used as directed, and you should consult your dentist before using it. It can cause damage to the enamel if used incorrectly or too often.
Is It Safe To Brush Your Teeth With Hydrogen Peroxide?
Yes. Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most common additives in toothpaste and is generally considered safe for use in brushing teeth. However, it can be irritating to the gums if used too often or too aggressively so you should use caution when brushing with hydrogen peroxide.
What Percent Of Hydrogen Peroxide Is Safe For Teeth?
A 3-10% solution of hydrogen peroxide is generally considered safe. At the dentist's office that figure shoots up to over 40%. But it is best to consult your dentist before using any concentration of hydrogen peroxide in the mouth.
Generally speaking, a lower percentage solution is safer and more effective for teeth whitening. Higher concentrations are more likely to cause side effects and should be used sparingly.
Is 6% Hydrogen Peroxide Safe For Teeth Whitening?
6% hydrogen peroxide is a standard amount of concentration for most home teeth whitening kits. If you go for a teeth whitening session at the dentist's office, they will often use a much higher concentration (unless the two of you decide that that is not the best idea.
Is 3% Hydrogen Peroxide Safe For Teeth?
3% hydrogen peroxide is about the lowest concentration you can find for teeth whitening products, and it is generally considered safe. That said, you still risk some damage to the enamel if you use it for whitening, and you certainly risk irritation to the gums if you brush too hard or too often with hydrogen peroxide.
How Long Does Teeth Whitening Take With Hydrogen Peroxide?
The teeth whitening duration using hydrogen peroxide depends on numerous factors: the concentration used, the type of product, how long it is used for, and individual genetics. In general, you can expect to see results after one session that lasts between 15-30 minutes. But noticeably whiter smiles can take up to one month to achieve.
How Often Should You Brush Your Teeth With Hydrogen Peroxide?
You should still brush your teeth twice daily with a fluoride toothpaste, even when using hydrogen peroxide for whitening. If you use a hydrogen peroxide toothpaste, you can brush with it as normal. However, if you are using a hydrogen peroxide gel or solution to whiten your teeth, you should only use it as directed and continue to brush your teeth as you normally would.
How Much Hydrogen Peroxide Do Dentists Use For Teeth Whitening?
Hydrogen peroxide concentrations in dentist's offices can range anywhere from 15-43%, depending on the product and the individual patient. The higher concentrations tend to be used for more serious discolorations that require a more aggressive whitening session. Lower amounts generally cater to those with sensitive teeth or gums. When you pay the extra teeth whitening cost and work with a dentist, you'll get a personalized whitening plan that is tailored to your teeth and lifestyle.
Is It Safe To Use Hydrogen Peroxide Toothpaste Every Day?
You can use hydrogen peroxide toothpaste every day, but you shouldn't use it forever. Experts generally agree that it's best to switch back to a fluoride toothpaste after four weeks of use. If you use whitening toothpaste too much, it could wear away tooth enamel and irritate your gums.