Having whiter teeth may be heavily influenced by Hollywood and the media. You see celebrities with white smiles all over social media, billboards, and TV. Even product commercials show people with gleaming white teeth using their products. As a result, many people want the same and are willing to spend a lot of money to get them.
Teeth whitening is a popular cosmetic procedure because it helps improve the brightness of your smile. It is especially beneficial for people who have stained, yellow, or dark teeth caused by various factors. If you’re considering this treatment, you may wonder if it is safe for your teeth.
While teeth whitening is generally safe, you must understand that some risks are involved, as with any dental procedure. This article will explore the potential risks associated with this treatment and help determine if it is right for you.
What is Teeth Whitening?
Teeth whitening is a dental procedure that aims to remove or reduce tooth stains and give you a brighter smile. It involves using bleaching agents, such as hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide, to lighten the colour of your teeth.
There are two main types of teeth whitening:
- In-office / In-chair.
A dentist performs this type of whitening in their office. It usually takes about an hour to complete and involves using higher concentrations of bleaching agents than you would find in over-the-counter products. It is also more effective, and you can usually see results in just one visit.
- At-home / Take-home.
This whitening method is done with lower concentrations of bleaching agents and is less effective than in-office whitening. They are usually only effective in removing extrinsic stains (surface stains). However, it can be done in the comfort of your home, but it may take several applications to see results. You can buy these products from your dentist or over-the-counter at a drug store. These can be in the form of gel, strips, whitening rinses, custom-fitted trays or toothpaste.
Can Teeth Whitening Damage Your Teeth?
While teeth whitening treatments are generally safe, they can cause damage to your teeth if done incorrectly.
A study led by researchers at the University of Toronto published in Nature Scientific Reports found that loss of enamel can result from greater penetration of whitening agents inside the tooth. This can lead to increased dental pulp cell mortality. This means that the cells responsible for regeneration are killed, which could harm the vitality of the tooth.
The researchers used an at-home whitening product with a 35% carbamide peroxide concentration. In this situation, they found that the dental pulp cells did not survive. The team said some tooth whitening products are sold at local pharmacies with 35% carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide concentrations. This is why the Australian government implemented a law that prohibits anyone from selling teeth whitening products that exceed 6% concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and 18% carbamide peroxide.
Though the study showed a significant finding, it was done on extracted teeth and not the live teeth of humans. So, perhaps it is safe to say that more research is needed to confirm these findings. In addition, if teeth whitening treatment is done by a dentist or certified dental professional, the risk of damage to your teeth is significantly lower. It is because they are trained to apply the bleaching agents properly and will take measures to protect your gums and other oral structures.
However, it is also vital to be aware of the potential risks before you undergo any treatment, especially when using at-home tooth whitening kits. These include:
- Tooth sensitivity.
This is the most common side effect related to teeth whitening. It is caused by the bleaching agents penetrating your tooth enamel and irritating the dental pulp, which contains nerve endings. The good news is that this side effect is usually temporary and will go away in a few weeks.
- Gum irritation.
If the bleaching agents come into contact with your gums, it can cause irritation, redness, and soreness. This is why you should follow the instructions carefully when using at-home whitening kits and ensure not to get any of the gel on your gums.
In rare cases, tooth whitening can cause ulcers or sores in your mouth. This is usually the result of an allergic reaction to the bleaching agents. If you experience sores or ulcers that do not go away, you must see your dentist as soon as possible.
- Damage to tooth enamel.
As mentioned previously, teeth whitening can cause damage to your tooth enamel if done incorrectly. This is why it is important to use products approved by the Australian Dental Association (ADA) and follow the instructions carefully.
What Happens During the Teeth Whitening Procedure?
Here’s what to expect at your professional teeth whitening treatment appointment:
- The dentist will first assess your teeth and ask about your medical history to see if you are suitable for whitening. This usually involves looking at the colour of your teeth, if you have restorations and any existing dental conditions, like gum disease.
- If your teeth are suitable for whitening, the dentist will prepare them by removing any plaque or tartar build-up. They will also cover your gums and other soft tissues in your mouth to protect them from the bleaching agents.
- The next step is to apply the bleaching agent to your teeth. This is usually done using a tray that fits over your teeth or a gel applied directly to your teeth. The bleaching agent will need to be left on for a specific period of time, which your dentist determines.
- Once the bleaching agent has been set on your teeth, the dentist will remove it and assess your teeth to see if the desired shade of white has been achieved. If not, they may repeat the process. Multiple whitening sessions are needed in most cases to get the desired outcome. The number of sessions will depend on the severity of your staining and the shade of white you prefer.
- After the procedure, the dentist will give you aftercare instructions. This usually involves avoiding certain foods and drinks (such as coffee and red wine) that can cause staining, as well as using toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Also, avoid smoking, which can cause your teeth to become discoloured again.
How Does Teeth Whitening Work?
After learning what the procedure entails, you might be wondering how teeth whitening works. The hardest tissue in our body is our tooth enamel. It is responsible for reflecting light and giving our teeth their white colour. However, over time, this can become stained and discoloured due to several different factors, such as:
- Drinking highly acidic foods or drinks, such as coffee, tea or red wine
- Smoking cigarettes
- Eating dark-coloured foods (such as curry or soy sauce)
- Taking certain medications (such as tetracycline)
- The natural ageing process
The bleaching agent used in the procedure works by breaking down the pigment molecules that cause the staining and discolouration of teeth. They break them down into smaller pieces. When this happens, the pigments appear lighter in colour.
How Often Can You Get Your Teeth Whitened?
The frequency of teeth whitening depends on some factors, such as:
- The type of bleaching agent used
- The severity of your staining
- The health of your teeth and enamel
- The level of whiteness you want
As a rule of thumb, you may whiten your teeth professionally or at home once per year. At-home whitening kits can be safely used for up to 14 consecutive days. Note that overbleaching your teeth can cause tooth sensitivity and gum irritation.
Does Teeth Whitening Cause Enamel Loss?
While enamel loss in teeth whitening is possible if done incorrectly, this is rare. This may also occur if there is already enamel damage before the procedure.
To avoid this, make sure you only have your teeth whitened by a qualified dentist because they will take measures to protect your enamel. They will also assess your condition and use the right concentration of bleaching agent for your teeth. Moreover, follow their aftercare instructions to ensure that your teeth are not damaged further.
If you want whiter teeth but are concerned about the safety of teeth whitening, talk to your dentist about alternative options.
Can Teeth Whitening Cause Cavities?
Is Teeth Whitening Safe?
Who Should Not Get Teeth Whitening Treatment?
People with the following conditions may not get this procedure:
- Gum disease.
Having this condition may increase the risk of pain and irritation. Undergoing whitening without managing gum disease may worsen your condition.
As mentioned, teeth whitening can cause sensitivity and irritation of the nerves.
- Enamel erosion.
This condition makes your teeth more susceptible to the bleaching agents used in the procedure.
- Sensitive teeth.
The bleaching agents used in teeth whitening can cause sensitivity, making it worse for people who already have this problem.
- Worn enamel.
The bleaching agents can cause further damage to teeth that have already been worn down. If you have any of these conditions, talk to your dentist about other options to achieve the desired results.
- Pregnant or breastfeeding women.
While no studies show that this treatment is unsafe for pregnant or lactating women, there is not enough research to show that it is safe for them. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s best to wait until after you’ve given birth or stopped breastfeeding before getting your teeth whitened.
- People with dental restorations (such as veneers, crowns or bridges).
The materials used in these dental procedures are not affected by teeth whitening because they are not porous like our natural teeth.
- Children under the age of 16.
Because children’s teeth are still developing, they are more sensitive. So, it’s best to wait until they’re older before whitening their teeth.
As a Conclusion
While teeth whitening can possibly cause tooth damage if done incorrectly, it is still considered safe when done by a qualified dental professional. Also, more studies on human teeth are necessary to understand better if it causes permanent tooth damage.
If you’re interested in whitening your teeth, reach us at 08 6196 4661 to book an appointment. We would be happy to assess your oral health and recommend the treatment for your needs.
Here at Piara Waters Dental, we have a friendly and compassionate principal dentist with years of experience providing a wide range of dental services, including professional teeth whitening. Because he believes dentistry is more than just repairing teeth, he is passionate about providing his patients with a positive experience and care by using modern technology and equipment. Give us a call today to book an appointment.
We look forward to meeting you!