The American Dental Association has been monitoring the development and increase in the number of teeth whitening products. Whitening refers to a process by which teeth appear whiter. Whitening is done in two ways:
- Bleaching the teeth: The natural tooth color is changed. Peroxide-containing bleaching products remove both deep as well as surface stains.
- Non-bleaching whitening: Products that whiten teeth without bleaching do so by physically or chemically removing the surface stains.
A study on the safety of teeth whitening published in the British Dental Journal in 2006 recommends that gingival protection should be used for tooth bleaching products that contain concentrated hydrogen peroxide.
Whitening products may be administered by the dentist or may be available as an over-the-counter product. There are several types of teeth whitening products:
- Tray-based: The bleaching agent used is carbamide peroxide.
- Whitening strips: Hydrogen peroxide is used as the bleaching agent.
- Paint-on: The bleaching agent is like a gel that is applied to the teeth using a brush.
- Toothpastes: Abrasive substances are used along with peroxide to make the teeth look cleaner and whiter.
- Chewing gums: The effectiveness of chewing gum on teeth whitening has not yet been proved though.
The side effects of teeth whitening that are most commonly observed are:
Temporary increase in tooth sensitivity: Tooth sensitivity should not last beyond a week after getting your teeth whitened. This side effect occurs during the early stages of teeth whitening. Teeth sensitivity can be reduced or eliminated by the following ways:
- Wearing the whitening tray for a shorter period of time
- Stop whitening teeth for a few days, allowing time for the teeth to adjust
- Obtain a product that contains high levels of fluoride to help re-mineralize teeth
- Brush teeth with toothpaste meant for sensitive teeth (They contain potassium nitrate that soothes the exposed nerve endings of teeth.)
Mild irritation of the soft tissues of the mouth, especially the gums: This problem is known to occur with OTC whitening kits. The bleaching agents may leak out around the edges of the mouthpiece and irritate the gums. Swallowing too much of the bleaching agent is harmful for the body, and it tastes bad as well. The long-term effects of sustained OTC whitening kits are not yet known, because these products have been launched quite recently in the market. To reduce irritation, the directions on the package should be properly followed. However, if there is too much irritation, the product should not be used.
According to an article published by Haywood in 1992, teeth whiteners should be used with caution, because of the presence of carbamide peroxide and hydrogen peroxide. Teeth whiteners are not drugs; hence, they are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Consumers need to be cautious and well-informed when using teeth whiteners, especially the OTC kits that are available at various drugstores.
Haywood, V. B. (1992). History, safety, and effectiveness of current bleaching techniques and applications of the nightguard vital bleaching technique. Quintessence Int, 23(7), 471-88.
Tredwin, C. J., Naik, S., Lewis, N. J., & Scully, C. B. E. C. (2006). Hydrogen peroxide tooth-whitening (bleaching) products: review of adverse effects and safety issues. British dental journal, 200(7), 371-376.
http://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments_and_procedures/hic_Effectiveness_Risks_Safety_and_Other_Frequently_Asked_Questions_About_Teeth_Whitening (accessed on 11/02/2015)
http://www.ada.org/en/about-the-ada/ada-positions-policies-and-statements/tooth-whitening-safety-and-effectiveness (accessed on 11/02/2015)
http://u.osu.edu/buckmdblog/2010/07/11/teeth-whiteners-do-they-work-and-are-they-safe/ (accessed on 11/02/2015)
http://www.bu.edu/today/2012/the-truth-about-teeth-whiteners/ (accessed on 11/02/2015)
Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:
Marshall, K., Berry, T. G., & Woolum, J. (2010). Tooth whitening: current status. Compendium, 31(7), 486-495.
Carey, C. M. (2014). Tooth whitening: what we now know. Journal of Evidence Based Dental Practice, 14, 70-76.
Perdigão, J. (2010). Dental whitening--revisiting the myths. Northwest dentistry, 89(6), 19-21.
Li, Y., & Greenwall, L. (2013). Safety issues of tooth whitening using peroxide-based materials. British dental journal, 215(1), 29-34.
Horn, B. A., Bittencourt, B. F., Gomes, O. M. M., & Farhat, P. A. (2014). Clinical evaluation of the whitening effect of over-the-counter dentifrices on vital teeth. Brazilian dental journal, 25(3), 203-206.