Although teeth whitening is generally considered safe by the ADA, there are several factors that go into whether or not it is actually a viable treatment for you.
The potential damage from using the wrong whitening products or methods can include:
- Moderate to severe tooth sensitivity
- Weakened enamel and increased risk of tooth fractures
- Permanent damage to the dentin layer of the tooth
- Etching of the teeth
- Irritated or inflamed gums
Since teeth whitening products are often made using a hydrogen or carbamide peroxide solution, they can be damaging if used incorrectly.
Fortunately, there are several proven tips you can use to whiten your teeth without damaging your enamel. In this article, we'll show you six ways to whiten your teeth safely while avoiding its potential side effects.
Is It Actually Possible To Whiten Teeth Without Damaging Enamel?
It is certainly possible to whiten your teeth without damaging your enamel. But many popular methods, such as in-office teeth whitening and over-the-counter products like whitening strips, are not the safest options.
Peroxide-based solutions, such as hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide, are commonly used in both at-home and professional teeth whitening treatments. They are powerful oxidizing agents that break down the complex stain molecules that discolor teeth.
Although these solutions can quickly and effectively lighten the color of your teeth, they also pose risks to your enamel when used incorrectly or in high concentrations, according to a growing body of research.
There are several reasons for this:
- Overuse: Excessive use of peroxide-based whitening treatments can weaken the tooth enamel, making it more susceptible to erosion and decay.
- High concentrations: Higher concentrations (i.e., more than 10%) of peroxide can lead to enamel demineralization, loss of tooth structure, and damage to the dentin layer beneath the enamel.
- Prolonged contact: Leaving peroxide-based solutions on the teeth for longer than recommended causes increased tooth sensitivity and enamel damage, as the peroxide continues to break down not only the stains but also the enamel itself.
- Improper application: Using ill-fitting whitening trays or applying too much whitening gel can result in the peroxide solution coming into contact with the gums. This is especially common with at-home teeth whitening solutions.
A research project conducted by scientists at the University of Toronto emphasizes the significant harm that popular teeth-whitening substances can inflict.
Featured in a recent issue of Nature Scientific Reports, the investigators evaluated the damage inflicted on dental cells by carbamide peroxide teeth-whitening procedures.
The findings revealed that a suggested application of merely 10% carbamide peroxide gel on teeth (35% carbamide peroxide gel is available for purchase online) can decrease the enamel protein content by as much as 50%.
6 Ways To Whiten Teeth Without Damaging Your Enamel
Although some of the fastest ways to whiten your teeth are out of the question if you want to guarantee a safe experience, there are still some slower but safer methods to use—some of which should already be a part of your daily routine.
1. Keep Your Regular Oral Hygiene Routine.
Maintaining your oral health should always be your first goal. Since teeth are not naturally white—and white teeth don't necessarily equal healthy teeth—your oral hygiene routine should always take precedence.
- Brushing your teeth twice every day
- Using a fluoride-based toothpaste
- Flossing at least once a day
- Visiting your dentist or hygienist regularly for professional cleanings
Although regular brushing and flossing won't give you the pearly-white smile you may dream of, it will certainly prevent discoloration.
Yellow teeth are often the result of plaque and tartar buildup. When you brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste twice a day, you can remove this buildup and prevent discoloration.
2. Try Oil Pulling.
Oil pulling is an ancient Indian remedy that involves swishing oil around your mouth to remove bacteria and other toxins. Typically, it is done using coconut oil or sesame oil, but olive oil is also highly effective at removing plaque and debris.
Oil pulling has many benefits that go beyond its ability to remove plaque. Since oil has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, it can also help reduce gum inflammation, improve your dental health, and freshen your breath.
To oil pull, take a teaspoon of oil and swish it around in your mouth for up to 20 minutes (but no less than five minutes). Spit the oil out into the trash—not down the sink—and brush your teeth afterward.
Oil pulling can be done once or twice a day as part of your oral hygiene routine, but it should not be used as a substitute for brushing or flossing.
3. Brush Your Teeth With Baking Soda.
Despite the common saying that baking soda is too abrasive for teeth, numerous studies conducted by dentists have proven its gentleness. It registers a score of seven on the Relative Dentin Abrasivity (RDA) scale, which ranges from 0 to 269.
The RDA value measures the extent of tooth abrasion caused by a material. The low score indicates that when used gently and as intended, baking soda can reduce surface stains and enhance the whiteness of your teeth.
Another benefit of baking soda is that it is a natural teeth whitening option. Since it is affordable and most people have it in their pantries, it's a great way to whiten teeth without breaking the bank.
4. Choose (And Avoid) The Right Foods And Drinks.
There are foods and drinks that damage your teeth, and there are foods that discolor them. There is some overlap between the two, and both should be avoided if you want to maintain healthy, white teeth.
Examples of foods to avoid include:
- Sodas and other sugary drinks
- Citrus fruits (such as oranges and lemons)
- Tomato-based products (like tomato sauce, ketchup, etc.)
- Berries and wines
- Coffee and teas
- Acidic foods and drinks (e.g., vinegar and pickles)
On the other hand, there are some foods that can actually help whiten your teeth. Apples are a proven natural teeth whitener, as are many other crunchy fruits and vegetables. Eating these foods can help scrub away plaque, leaving your teeth looking brighter.
Dairy products like cheese, milk, and yogurt also have teeth whitening benefits. They balance the acidity in your mouth and the pH level of your saliva, which helps prevent tooth discoloration.
5. Make The Right Lifestyle Choices.
Just like your dietary choices, the lifestyle you lead plays a significant role in whether or not you can enjoy the benefits of white teeth.
Smoking is one of the most damaging habits for your teeth, as it not only stains them but also damages your gums. And vaping is no better—as a nicotine-containing product, it can still cause discoloration and inflammation.
Alcohol and drug use also contribute to tooth discoloration. The former can lead to dehydration, dry mouth, and neglecting of your oral hygiene routine, while the latter can cause a variety of serious dental health issues, including eventual tooth loss.
6. Consult With Your Dentist.
If you're unsure of what the best option for improving your smile is, your best bet is to consult your dentist. They are able to assess your dental history, offer advice on the best treatments, and advise you about any potential risks that may be associated with certain procedures.
Your dentist will also be able to develop a personalized plan for you—one that takes into account the state of your teeth, your budget, and how much time you're willing to commit to your dental care.
Under dental supervision, teeth whitening procedures are controlled and professionally administered. Although you may experience some sensitivity after teeth whitening (and they can sometimes damage your enamel), you can generally expect the procedure to go smoothly with no lasting effects.
What Teeth Whitening Products Don’t Ruin Enamel?
To some degree, almost all teeth whitening products will ruin your enamel if you aren't careful, are subject to sensitivity, or use them too often.
If you want to avoid any potential damage, look for teeth whitening kits with lower concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. Most reputable brands sell kits with concentrations of 6% or below. These are generally safe to use and won't damage your enamel.
And most importantly, don't overwhiten your teeth—using multiple products at once or too often can be hard on your enamel. Stick to one product and follow the instructions for how frequently you should use it.
How Can I Whiten My Teeth Without Losing Enamel?
You can whiten your teeth without losing enamel in several ways:
- Properly using whitening products with lower concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, as mentioned previously.
- Making lifestyle changes and avoiding food and drinks that discolor teeth, such as red wine, coffee, and citrus fruits.
- Avoiding dangerous whitening fads, such as DIY charcoal whitening kits, which can be abrasive and ruin your enamel.
- Using safe natural whitening methods like oil pulling, which are gentle on your teeth and have other added health benefits.
- Consulting with your dentist to develop a personalized plan for whitening that is tailored to your needs and budget.
Does Enamel Grow Back After Whitening?
Your tooth enamel will not grow back after being damaged by anything, including whitening agents. The only way to restore your enamel is by getting a dental procedure that artificially replaces it.
You can, however, restore your teeth to a healthier state by using a fluoride-based product that helps remineralize the enamel. This can make them stronger and more resistant to further damage.
What Does Destroyed Enamel Look Like?
Destroyed enamel can either look yellow or grey, depending on the level of damage. It can also appear pitted or chipped. If your teeth are very discolored, you may need to consult a dentist for a more in-depth treatment like veneers.
Here are a few images to help you see the differences in types and severity of enamel damage and erosion:
Why Am I Losing Enamel After Teeth Whitening?
Enamel loss after whitening is rare when whitening products are used as directed. It's only when products are used too often or in higher concentrations than recommended that enamel damage can occur.
If you're seeing signs of tooth erosion after whitening, stop using the product immediately and consult your dentist to determine if any further or alternative treatments are needed.
Can Dentists Repair Enamel?
If you need to repair lost or eroded enamel, your dentist can repair it in several ways:
- Veneers: These are a popular option as they can fix damaged enamel and restore the look of your teeth. They are on the more expensive side, but they can last over a decade with proper care.
- Dental bonding: When you get dental bonding, your dentist uses a special resin to repair any areas of broken or damaged enamel.
- Tooth-colored fillings: This procedure is used to replace cavities or fill in chips or cracks.
These procedures may help restore your teeth to a healthier and more aesthetically pleasing state. But they are not a permanent solution—good oral hygiene is still essential to preventing further enamel erosion.
What Is The Safest Teeth Whitening Option For Enamel?
The safest teeth whitening options for your enamel are those that are:
- Non-abrasive: Avoid products that contain abrasive ingredients like charcoal.
- Low-concentration hydrogen peroxide: Stick to whiteners with concentrations of 6% or below.
- Instructions-based: Follow the instructions for how often you should use the product for it to be safe and effective.
- Professionally guided: Under dental supervision, you are much more likely to have a safe and successful whitening experience.
The Bottom Line
In general, teeth whitening is safe—even when using hydrogen peroxide products. But failure to follow instructions or use products as intended can result in serious damage to your teeth.
Remember: These products are bleaching agents, and they are meant to whiten your teeth past their natural color.
If your teeth are already white, you have naturally sensitive teeth, or you have preexisting dental health problems, teeth whitening is not for you.