Habitual Whitening Can Ruin Your Teeth. Are Americans going too far?

2023-11-28T20:15:11+00:00November 28th, 2023|Adam Brown, Adam Brown DDS, Dental Trends, Oral Health, Teeth Cleaning, Teeth Whitening|

The Dangers of Habitual Teeth Whitening

When it comes to teeth whitening these days, we have plenty of options to choose from. Do these methods truly whiten teeth? Yes, absolutely they do. Some provide immediate results, others take a month or so of use for noticeable whiteness, but they do work. However, one question that is rarely discussed concerning teeth whitening is whether or not it has negative side effects. Which, unfortunately, it does–some of which can end up costing a lot of money in repairs, or worse, doing serious damage to one’s oral health.

Dangers of too much teeth whitening

Though advanced methods of teeth whitening pop up every few years, the act of whitening itself has been around for a long time. Archeologists have discovered evidence of ancient Egyptians grinding stone to a powder and mixing it with white vinegar to produce a whitening paste. This 4,000 year-old practice has changed a bit over time, but the desired result has always been the same: pearly white teeth. But what about the long-term effects, are they worth the risk? Let’s find out.

A Quick Note

There are many whitening products available for consumer purchase, however, there are two types of treatment–those done at home and those done in a dental office. Obviously, in-office procedures are performed by a dental professional, which usually brings about quicker results. Then there are at-home treatments which include whitening strips, trays, etc. and these can take longer to show results. The point to be made here is that despite which type of treatment you use, they all come with possible health risks, like gum irritation, heightened tooth sensitivity, and even enamel damage.

Before getting into the details of the potential health risks due to whitening, it is of the utmost importance to understand that any use of whitening agents on one’s teeth should commence with a quick dental consultation, so your dentist can relay professional advice on whether you should or should not use them and which treatment(s) might work best for your teeth. 

Teeth Whitening and How It Works

Teeth whitening involves particular techniques to remove stains and discoloration from the teeth. These techniques are not necessarily meant to improve one’s oral health, but rather to improve the appearance of the teeth, which is important to understand. If a whitening agenda proports effectiveness, know that this means it is effective in making teeth appear whiter, but this doesn’t mean it is effective in making the teeth healthier.

Coffee, tea, wine, and tobacco are usually blamed most often for staining teeth, and when whitening treatments are used, they work by coating the teeth in peroxide-based agents that bleach and break down stains and discolored areas. If the teeth have high levels of dark stains, it might take a more serious procedure, such as an in-office treatment that will cost a bit more than the over-the-counter methods.

The problem is that these whitening treatments use harsh chemicals to whiten the teeth, and often these treatments are done more than once–sometimes a lot more than once. Over time, the peroxide eats away at the enamel, which initiates tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. This is why it is of the utmost importance to see your dentist first before trying any sort of whitening treatment, so you can get an idea of what your specific side effects to the whitening treatments might be.

Dangerous Side Effects

There are so many whitening products out there, it can be difficult to know which ones have the most dangerous and/or severe side effects. It’s a scary thought that you could potentially be purchasing a whitening kit that will damage your teeth, so to help provide some clarity, here are a few tips to consider when looking to whiten:

  • Stay away from trays and gels. This whitening system has been around the longest, and though it does whiten your teeth, it also—you guessed it—eats away at the tooth enamel. The process involves heating a tray, filling it with whitening gel, and inserting it to the mouth to form a bond. The problem with this method is that it can take weeks for results to show, so users tend to use it a lot in order to get the desired results. And consequently, most people who use the trays and gels report having teeth sensitivity afterwards, even receding gums.
  • Use caution with whitening strips—actually, don’t use them at all. The famous whitening strips have been around for ten years or so, and have had a lot of success in whitening teeth. Results can show in about a week, and the process is easy: fold the strip over your top and bottom rows of teeth and keep them in your mouth for a short period of time. However, just as the trays and gels, this method is bad for your teeth and gums in the long run because it eats away your enamel and gum tissue due to the direct contact of the chemicals used.
  • Another one to say away from: paint-on whitening. The paint-on method solves the problem of the whitening agent interacting with interior soft tissues, such as the gums and inner cheek, as you simply brush the whitening gel on each tooth and let it sit for a short period of time, but this “paint” is full of chemicals that like to diminish the enamel. This method is an easy process, which is why it has become popular, but it isn’t healthy. After months, even years, of using paint-on whiteners users have noticed receding gums and increased tooth sensitivity.

A Healthy Option

Recently, two natural methods of whitening teeth have been gaining in popularity. Both maintain your tooth’s enamel, and if used correctly, they don’t cause your gums to recede and reveal that sensitive area between the teeth and gumline. Check these out:

  1. Turmeric Tooth-Whitening Paste. As turmeric is naturally an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory agent, it does more than clean the teeth. It’s good for your overall oral health as well. Here are the ingredients for this healthy whitening method:

-4 tablespoons turmeric powder

-2.5 tablespoons coconut oil

-2 tablespoons baking soda

Mix the ingredients until a paste is formed and store in an airtight container. Use the paste on your teeth two or three times a week, using regular—non-whitening—toothpaste the rest of the week. All it takes is a pea-sized drop of the turmeric paste and a light touch when brushing (it can be a bit abrasive, so brush lightly as to not end up damaging your teeth and gums).

  • Baking Soda Lemon Tooth-Whitening Paste. Though it seems as though the acidity of a lemon and abrasiveness of baking soda would be harsh on the teeth, if used lightly, and in moderation, it can be quite effective and safe.

 The lemon juice acts as a bleach to help whiten teeth, while the pH of the baking soda balances out the acidity of your mouth to create a nice whitening agent. Here’s the recipe:

-10 teaspoons of baking soda

-Enough lemon juice to form a paste

The same with the turmeric paste, brush lightly. Use a pea-sized amount and let the product sit on your teeth for a minute or two before rinsing. Do this two or three times a week and results should begin to show within a month.

Before You Whiten

Though it is tempting to buy the most popular take-home whitening products on the market, the natural method is so much safer and better for your overall oral health. Just because your friend has found a product that works without causing sensitivity and enamel loss, it doesn’t mean its safe. It could take years, but eventually that loss of enamel and raised gumline will cause some problems.

Your first step is to come in and meet with Dr. Brown and his team. They can effectively assess the health level of your teeth and gums to forecast which method(s) might be best for you–if any.