Cosmetic dentistry is in the spotlight these days and one thing we can be sure of is that people like white teeth – on themselves and on others. Perhaps this is because white teeth appear healthier and cleaner. In fact, 96 percent of adults believe that attractive smiles make members of the opposite sex more appealing, and 74 percent of adults think unattractive smiles hinder employment success.
According to a 2015 survey by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), teeth whitening ranked among the highest demand and most popular cosmetic dentistry procedure performed as reported by 351 dental professional respondents.
With so many toothpastes, over-the-counter gels and strips and home remedies available, we wonder: are all of these teeth whitening methods really a safe way to brighten your smile?
What Is Teeth Whitening And What Are Its Main Benefits?
Teeth whitening is a common procedure in cosmetic dentistry that uses whitening products (generally containing hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as bleaching agents) to make your teeth appear whiter and brighter.
There is no arguing that a whiter smile can have positive effect on both your physical appearance and psychological health. However, if you are unsure about having your teeth whitened or wondering whether it is the right option for you, here are 5 benefits of teeth whitening:
1. Teeth whitening boosts your self-confidence
When you notice an improved appearance in the mirror or in those selfies, your confidence will skyrocket. Whiter teeth are also an indication to others that you take care of yourself and care about your appearance.
2. Teeth whitening improves your appearance
No one is immune to the damage or stains caused by everyday foods and drinks like sodas, coffee, and berries. Sure, you can whiten your teeth in your selfies with the right filter on your smartphone. But why go to all that post-editing effort when you can have the real deal 24/7?
3. A healthier mouth
Removing set-it stains allows your teeth to become stronger and even healthier. Plus, when you experience the amazing results of teeth whitening, it will motivate you to be more consistent with your daily oral care routine.
4. Teeth whitening minimizes the look of wrinkles
Teeth whitening won’t get rid of wrinkles, but it does minimize their appearance. That’s because a white smile shifts the focus on your face to your mouth.
5. It is very affordable
Both at-home teeth whitening products, such as strips and gels, and professional treatments often come at a small price yet deliver big results with long-lasting positive effects. Teeth whitening definitely doesn’t cost as much as a plastic surgery!
Is Teeth Whitening Safe? Simple Steps To Safely Whiten Teeth
While teeth whitening is a non-invasive and virtually painless procedure that is considered extremely safe, several minor side effects are sometimes associated with this practice. These include gum irritation and tooth sensitivity.
- Gum Irritation: The most common active ingredients for teeth whitening products are hydrogen peroxide and carbamide peroxide. If the bleach in these ingredients were to touch your gums, it could cause irritation. However, this minor irritation is usually harmless and will likely heal on its own.
- Tooth Sensitivity: Tooth sensitivity is common side effect of all forms of teeth bleaching. According to the ADA, sensitivity is possibly due to the pulp's inflammation from peroxide exposure during the treatment. Many factors may influence the severity of the sensitivity, including the peroxide concentration, the presence of restorations, or even the intensity of light use.
The key when using an over-the-counter product like whitening strips or gels, is to always make sure to read instructions and use the product as directed. Other steps to follow for a safe teeth whitening experience include:
- Talk to your dentist. Your dentist can evaluate your tooth health and address any issues — like cavities or gum disease — before you start a whitening protocol. They also can advise on the best whitening treatment and answer any of your questions.
- Follow directions. Each product comes with a unique set of instructions for the duration and frequency of use. Don’t leave the strips or gels on longer than the directions say, or you might wind up with sore gums and set yourself up for other problems. After you whiten, avoid soda, sports drinks, or other acidic beverages for a couple of hours to protect your teeth.
- Protect sensitive teeth. Your teeth may be a little sensitive after you whiten, but it’s usually brief. It might be less of an issue if your teeth and gums are in good shape. If it bothers you, stop the treatment and talk to your dentist. Gel-filled trays, which you wear over your teeth like a mouth guard, can also bother your gums if they don't fit well.
- Don't overdo it: Some people get a little obsessed with trying to maintain the same level of brightness and over-bleach their teeth. Other people develop temporary sensitivity in the gums or teeth when using whitening products. That is not a sign of long-term damage, but it can be uncomfortable. If it happens to you, consider taking a break from bleaching or switching to a milder product.
Natural Teeth Whitening Remedies To Avoid
Just because it's natural does not mean it's harmless. The truth is that many DIY whitening remedies can do more harm than good to your teeth, for example by causing permanent damage to the enamel of your teeth. Here are some home remedies you should stay away from:
1. Lemon-based solutions
A 2008 study found lemon juice is the most corrosive to tooth enamel when compared to grapefruit juice and orange juice. Lemon juice has a pH of just 2.2, which is very acidic. While it may lighten your teeth, it will do so at a significant cost.
2. Abrasive Methods like Scrubs
Abrasive scrubs with things like sea salt are also not ideal for teeth whitening. Using these methods reduces staining while also creating microscopic scratches on your teeth. This microabrasions are a great breeding ground for bacteria that cause tooth decay.
3. Activated Charcoal
The American Dental Association (ADA) says activated charcoal is abrasive enough to damage the enamel of your teeth, and it hasn't yet been found safe or effective. Activated charcoal is also highly absorbent and can lead to deteriorated enamel and tooth erosion. Because its natural process is so strong, it can wear away your enamel and expose the yellower, softer layers of your teeth.
You may hear recommendations to brush your teeth with fresh strawberries for natural whitening, but they get their power from ascorbic acid and acids are harmful to teeth. Strawberries can be an essential part of a balanced, healthy diet, but it's necessary to brush your teeth with fluoride toothpaste after eating them, as this acid is harmful to your teeth.
5. Wood Ash
Rubbing your teeth with wood ash from a fireplace is a natural home remedy that has most likely been passed down from generation to generation. However, this whitening remedy is not only extremely unpleasant but also potentially dangerous. The harshness of the potassium hydroxide in the wood could significantly damage your teeth over time.
Who Should Avoid Teeth Whitening?
Professional teeth whitening and at-home treatments have a high patient satisfaction rate and are some of the best methods for whitening teeth without damaging enamel. However, this isn't the right option for everyone. The following may not be a good candidate for teeth whitening:
Primary teeth have thinner enamel and dentin and larger pulp (the living connective tissue inside the teeth) than permanent teeth do. Since many pre-teens do not have all of their permanent teeth yet, whitening treatments could cause severe irritation and increased tooth sensitivity. However, teeth whitening should be considered on an individual basis, so if your child already has all of their adult teeth by 13, they may be ready for whitening products.
While there are currently no studies that show teeth whitening during pregnancy and breastfeeding is unsafe, most dentists advise pregnant women to avoid non-essential dental procedures until they have delivered their baby. This is because pregnancy can cause a number of changes in the mouth, which may complicate the process of teeth whitening.
If you have a lot of fillings, dental bonding, or crowns, you may not be a candidate for dental whitening. This is because porcelain or resin composite restorations will not respond to whitening, and a whitening treatment could result in a very uneven appearance.
Although minor, the risk of an allergic reaction is always present with teeth whitening. If you have a known allergy to peroxide or any other active ingredient present in these treatments, we recommend trying instead safe natural remedies.
These spots will become whiter and more evident after a whitening treatment, thus resulting in a very uneven appearance.
The bottom line
Teeth whitening is one of the most popular trends for quickly brightening up a smile that has been dulled due to age, smoking, and drinking tea, coffee, soft drinks, and red wine. Then comes the million-dollar question: Is teeth whitening safe? Yes, it can be. Just handle your whitening protocol like any medical treatment — listen to your dentist, follow instructions, and watch for unwanted side effects. Then, you can safely and effectively whiten your teeth and brighten your smile.