Friday, 5 December 2014

Is Teeth Whitening Dangerous?

Pearly white teeth
Teeth whitening is now the in thing, with at least 70% of the population having tried one form or another of teeth whitening from toothpastes and strips to laser.

Teeth whitening procedures use either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide (which breaks down into hydrogen peroxide after a few hours). These bleaching agents are available in different strengths from 5% up to 40%.

In the majority of cases the only side effects are increased sensitivity with hot and cold foods and mild pain that tends to disappear within 2-3 weeks.

Teeth Whitening Kits

Most teeth whitening kits bought over the counter contain less than 10% bleaching agent and they need to be used everyday for 2 weeks. In Australia, regulations require that they contain less than 6% peroxide. It is possible to obtain higher concentrations online and you should be aware of the risks associated with using them.

Whitening kits comprise a bleaching gel and a tray. You put a small amount of the gel on the tray and fit the tray over your teeth leaving it there for half an hour to all night depending on strength of the gel. The safest ones are those kits supplied by your dentist because the trays are made to match the exact shape of your teeth and there is less risk of the gel burning your gums or irritating your throat.

The major risk is side effects due to the condition of your teeth before using one of these kits. It is important that you consult your dentist before buying an over the counter teeth whitening kit.

If you have any cracks or cavities the bleaching gel can access the tooth nerve and cause severe pain and even kill it.

Another risk is the overuse of these teeth whitening products. Prolonged use can cause pain, irritated gums, receding of the gums, irritation to the gastrointestinal track, the wearing away of the teeth close to the gums, and a bluish translucent tint that can be permanent. Make sure that you follow the product's instructions and don not use for longer than recommended with a touch up every 6 months or once a year.

Laser Teeth Whitening Treatments

These procedures are usually carried out by a dentist and use up to 40% hydrogen peroxide gel. They deliver up to 8 shades whiter in an hour or two. The bleaching agent is so strong that it can burn any soft tissue in the mouth.

To avoid harm to the gums and tongue the dentist first apply a protective layer of a plastic-like gel to the gums. He also uses a dental retractor to pull back the lips. He then paints the bleaching gel on the surface of the teeth and applies a light to accelerate the whitening effect.

This procedure can also cause sensitivity and pain even if performed by a dentist. These side effects have been known to continue for up to 3 months after the treatment.

Another thing to be aware of is that bleaching your teeth removes the pellicle. The pellicle is a protective layer that covers your teeth. Without this layer your teeth are more prone to absorb stains, so it is important to avoid coffee, tea, red wine, coke, any dark coloured foods, and smoking for at least 48 hours until the pellicle reforms. Otherwise your teeth will get about two shades darker right away.

Teeth Whitening Toothpastes

Teeth whitening toothpastes work by using abrasives and a chemicals that dissolve surface stains. They take between 2 to 6 weeks to make the teeth appear 2 to 3 shades whiter. Prolonged use can damage the enamel of your teeth.

Whitening toothpastes only remove surface stains, they do not work on deep stains or change the natural colour of your teeth. Some toothpastes use a substance called blue covarine which sticks to the surface of the teeth and makes them appear whiter.

Teeth Whitening Strips

Teeth whitening strips work in the same way than whitening kits. They contain up to 10% hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide gel on a flexible plastic strip. The strip moulds to the shape of your teeth and bleaches your teeth.

They may be safer than the over-the-counter whitening kits because there is no risk of the bleaching gel spilling over your gums, however if the strips are applied too close to the gums you may still get burns or irritation.


It is important to consider that whatever method you use, teeth whitening is only temporary and your teeth will start getting stained again right after treatment. In the best of the cases some lightening may be retained for up to 3 years. Avoiding smoking and eating foods that stain; and brushing your teeth after every meal will help prolonging the brightening results.

Most whitening kits or treatments cause sensitivity and sometimes pain to most people. Most at risk are those using over-the-counter kits without first consulting their dentist. Existing cavities and cracks can cause serious problems and you can even losse teeth.

Because the results are temporary people tend to overdo it which will cause a weakening of the enamel. Just like over bleaching your hair your teeth will become porous and brittle, making them susceptible to cavities and causing sensitivity and pain.

Natural Ways for Whitening Your Teeth

Natural whitening methods only remove surface stains giving you up to 3 shades lighter. They can also be used to maintain your teeth white after a bleaching treatment.

  • Eat lots of crunchy vegetables. Vegetables such as celery, carrots and apples are great to clean plaque and stains.

  • Mix Baking Soda with your toothpaste and brush your teeth with this once a week for maintenance or once a day for 7 days and then only once a week. You may be tempted to do this more often, don't. Baking Soda is a mild abrasive, use in moderation it removes plaque and stains, abused it will damage the enamel of your teeth.

  • Rub lemon and orange peels on your teeth. The citric acid will break down stains whitening your teeth, however it should not be used more than once a day for a week. Can be repeated every six months. If used more often it will damage the enamel of your teeth and cause sensitivity.

  • Make a paste by mashing strawberries with a fork and brush your teeth with this paste. Strawberries contain malic acid which is very good at breaking down stains and whitening your teeth. You should brush your teeth with toothpaste afterwards because strawberries also have sugar.
  • However the best way to whiten your teeth naturally is using Activated Charcoal (Activated Carbon). Activated Charcoal is excellent at absorbing toxins and tannins. Most stains in your teeth are caused by tannins present in everyday foods and tobacco. Activated Charcoal will remove the stains on your teeth without damaging the enamel and you can use it every day. What's more, It will also protect your mouth from plaque and bacterial growth because it balances the PH.

    You can buy Activated Charcoal in powder form or capsules at health stores. You must be careful when using it because it can make a mess in your bathroom, although it does not stain, and can be easily removed with water. Take a plate with you to the bathroom and place it next to the sink. Carefully open the capsule in the centre of the plate (or pour a small amount of the powder). Wet your toothbrush (don't use an electric toothbrush) and dip it in the powder. Carefully move the brush over your teeth, only once. Leave the charcoal in your mouth for 5-8 minutes. Rinse your mouth well and brush with your normal toothpaste.

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