Every year, Americans spend billions on teeth whitening products. And on a global scale, it's a growing industry that is becoming more in-demand and affordable.
Still, there are several side effects to teeth whitening. And if you have a preexisting oral health condition, extreme tooth sensitivity, or weakened enamel, understanding the potential risks of whitening your teeth is essential.
This article tells you everything you need to know about the side effects of teeth whitening and how to manage them.
What Are The Common Side Effects Of Teeth Whitening?
When used as directed for as long as directed, teeth whitening is a safe way to improve your smile. But teeth whitening solutions like hydrogen and carbamide peroxide can lead to several minor side effects (and damaging ones in the case of overuse).
Let's take a look at the most common side effects of teeth whitening.
1. Increased Sensitivity To Hot And Cold
Increased tooth sensitivity is the most common side effect of teeth whitening. Some research finds that nearly all patients experience some form of sensitivity in the 24-48 hours following the procedure.
Because of this, ice water, soups, smoothies, ice cream, and other cold or hot foods and drinks can all cause a momentary sharp pain after teeth whitening.
For those who suffer from chronic tooth sensitivity, these effects may last longer or feel more significant but are typically still manageable.
The good news is that this usually only lasts for about two to three days and is usually mild in nature. Since the bleaching agents used in teeth whitening are acidic, they can lead to temporary nerve irritation and sensitivity.
2. Gum Or Tooth Irritation
Another common side effect of teeth whitening is irritation to the gums and tooth surface. This can happen if the whitening product touches your gums or other soft tissues in your mouth. It’s important to be careful not to let the bleach touch your gums or the surrounding soft tissues.
If you opt for an in-office teeth whitening procedure, your dentist will take care to avoid your gums and will usually apply desensitizing agent before, during, and after the procedure.
If you're doing the whole whitening process at home, however, you'll want to take additional care not to let the bleaching agent touch your gums.
If you have a preexisting gum condition like gingivitis, periodontal disease, or receding gums, you should talk to your dentist before undergoing any kind of teeth whitening and consider fixing that first.
3. Pain Or Discomfort
With tooth sensitivity comes pain and discomfort. Most people experience some degree of this during a teeth whitening procedure, especially if they have sensitive teeth. Even with natural teeth whitening solutions like baking soda pastes and hydrogen peroxide rinses, you may experience mild forms of this.
As we mentioned, this is usually minor and temporary and goes away within a day or two after the procedure. It’s also important to note that extreme pain or discomfort signifies something else is wrong. If this is the case, you should stop the whitening treatment immediately and see your dentist.
4. Throat And Stomach Pain
If you accidentally swallow too much of the bleaching agent, you may experience throat and stomach pain after those areas come into contact with the acidic substance.
Stomach and throat pain post-whitening is usually caused when the bleaching agent used in teeth whitening (hydrogen or carbamide peroxide) comes into contact with the digestive system. When this happens, the acid can cause irritation and pain in the throat or stomach.
In most cases, this passes quickly and doesn't require medical attention. But if you experience severe or ongoing throat/stomach pain after teeth whitening, you should see a doctor immediately.
5. Tingling Sensations
During treatment and shortly thereafter, some people experience a tingling sensation in their teeth and gums. Typically, this feels like a "mini electric shock" and is usually caused by the bleaching agents coming into contact with the nerves in your teeth.
Since your teeth are porous, when the bleaching agent penetrates the enamel and dentin layers of the teeth, it can reach the nerves and cause this sensation.
Although it isn't usually anything to worry about, it can be a bit jarring if you're not expecting it.
If you experience this, be sure to talk to your dentist about ways to minimize nerve irritation during the whitening process and consider using a desensitizing agent before, during, and after treatments.
6. Teeth Inflammation
One major risk of teeth whitening is the possibility of inflammation in the pulp of your teeth. This can occur especially when teeth are already compromised due to cracks or breakage from trauma or dental procedures like root canals.
The chemicals used during bleaching treatments may worsen existing issues by causing further irritation and inflammation in the sensitive enamel of your teeth.
It is important to discuss any existing dental issues with your dentist before undergoing tooth whitening, so they can advise you on whether it is safe for you to proceed with treatment or not.
7. Allergic Reactions
In extremely rare cases, people may have an allergic reaction to the chemicals used in teeth whitening treatments. These reactions can vary from mild itching and burning sensations to more severe symptoms such as rashes, hives, and swelling of the lips.
Some teeth whitening products have ACD (allergic contact dermatitis) allergens like cobalt and nickel, which can cause allergic reactions.
Patients with latex allergies may also experience allergic reactions if the whitening trays or rubber dams they use on their mouths contain latex.
Usually, a dentist will discuss allergies with patients upfront, but it is important to be aware of any that you may have beforehand, especially if you opt for an at-home teeth whitening product.
Tips For Minimizing Teeth Whitening Side Effects
If you want to enjoy the benefits of white teeth, you might see side effects as a significant detractor. But there are a few steps you can take to minimize the risk of experiencing these side effects:
- Talk to your dentist about any existing health issues that may conflict with teeth whitening.
- Whiten your teeth under dental supervision to avoid misuse.
- Use desensitizing agents before, during, and after treatments.
- Don't exceed the recommended frequency for whitening treatments.
- Follow the instructions provided with your whitening product and use it according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
- Follow up with a dentist if you experience any adverse reactions.
Beyond this, it's important to avoid over-whitening your teeth. After a dental visit or at-home treatment, you may be tempted to take matters further by using additional products, whitening toothpaste, or attempting to whiten your teeth with at-home ingredients.
Research shows that hydrogen peroxide whitening products can cause damage to the dentin layer of your teeth, and one study points to its capacity to weaken your the surface of your teeth.
In the case of regular use, these effects probably won't happen. But overuse is something to keep in mind, as it can lead to potential damage.
What to learn more? Here are some questions our customers frequently ask us.
Does Teeth Whitening Have Long-Term Side Effects?
Most of the side effects associated with teeth whitening are temporary and should subside once the treatment is completed. However, if you overuse teeth whitening products or use them incorrectly, it can lead to more long-term damage such as enamel wear and increased sensitivity. These impacts are semi-permanent—you may not be able to reverse them.
What Is The Safest Way To Whiten Teeth?
For the safest, most successful teeth whitening process, you should use customized trays from your dentist. According to the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), this is even safer than light-induced bleaching, which may cause more discomfort without benefitting the whitening process. When comparing in-office whitening vs. at-home products, dental supervision also reduces the margin for error, making it safer.
What Are The Side Effects Of Teeth Whitening Strips?
The most common side effects of teeth whitening strips include:
- Enamel erosion: Overuse or prolonged use of whitening strips can lead to enamel erosion, making your teeth more susceptible to staining and decay.
- Gum irritation: The hydrogen peroxide in whitening strips may irritate the gums and cause minor discomfort. Additionally, improper application can result in gum irritation due to leftover residue from the adhesive on the strips.
- Sensitivity: Some people experience temporary sensitivity after using teeth whitening strips, usually caused by the bleaching agents coming into contact with the nerves in your teeth.
- Tingling sensation: Many people report feeling a tingling sensation during their treatment session when the bleaching agent comes into contact with their nerve endings. This is typically only minor and passes quickly.
What Are The Side Effects Of Laser Teeth Whitening?
Laser teeth whitening typically involves higher concentrations of peroxide gel, which can cause particular side effects. Tooth sensitivity is the most common, affecting almost everyone to some degree. Others may experience some mild pain, gum irritation, and minor swelling. In most cases, these effects are temporary and subside shortly after the procedure is completed.
What Is The Most Common Side Effect Of Tooth Whitening?
The most common side effect of tooth whitening is temporary sensitivity. This is caused by the bleaching agents coming into contact with the nerves in your teeth, and often results in a feeling of discomfort or mild pain. Sensitivity can be more pronounced among those who have experienced trauma to their teeth in the past, as well as those using professional products rather than do-it-yourself kits.
How Long Is It Safe To Whiten Teeth?
The length of time you should whiten your teeth for depends on the type of whitening you are doing. For at-home whitening, the directions on the packaging should tell you how often and for how long you should use it. Generally, it is not recommended to exceed the instructions provided by your dentist or manufacturer.
Are Dentist Teeth Whitening Procedures Safe?
In-office teeth whitening is the safest form of teeth whitening as it is performed by a dental professional and requires the least amount of time. Dentists use higher concentrations of peroxide, as well as light or laser technology to whiten teeth. But since they are done under the supervision of a dentist, the margin for error is minimal. This reduces the risk of side effects such as sensitivity or gum irritation.
What Are The Side Effects Of Teeth Whitening Pens?
Downsides of using teeth whitening pens include the following:
- Short-term results: Teeth whitening pens may not be a good option if you are looking for long-term or sustainable whitening effects, as these results may be short-lived.
- Enamel erosion: The bleaching agent in the pens may cause enamel erosion, meaning your teeth become more susceptible to staining and decay.
- Saliva exposure: The active ingredient that provides the whitening effect can easily break down when exposed to saliva, resulting in reduced effectiveness of the treatment.
- Gum inflammation: The formula of the pens can sometimes cause gum irritation due to leftover residue from the serum on the brush.
Teeth whitening can be a great way to improve the appearance of your teeth and boost your confidence, but it's important to understand the potential side effects. Be sure to follow all instructions provided by your dentist or from the product packaging and consult with them if you have any concerns about the safety of teeth whitening procedures. And most importantly, make sure not to over-whiten your teeth, as this can lead to even more sensitivity or damage.
With the right care and maintenance, you can achieve a brighter smile without compromising your dental health.