The benefits of teeth whitening are undeniable: Whiter teeth make us look younger, feel more attractive, and feel more confident. There are numerous ways to brighten a smile, including home remedies like baking soda, store-bought whitening toothpastes and strips, DIY tooth whitening kits, and in-office dental procedures.
In fact, since tooth whitening became popular in the 1980s, it has grown to a multi-billion dollar industry. It is expected to grow even more between 2021 and 2026 to as high as $7.99 billion, according to market research group Arizton.
As consumers evaluate options for brightening their smiles, a common question they ask is, “Is teeth whitening safe?” Teeth whitening in general is safe, as long as the person who does it follows the instructions. As with any procedure, there are risks associated with tooth whitening, including allergic reactions and increased sensitivity in the mouth.
Here we look at some of the types of DIY tooth whitening procedures and their risks.
Are Tooth-Whitening Toothpastes Safe?
Whitening toothpastes are safe to use, as long as you follow directions and do not swallow your toothpaste. These types of toothpastes contain some sort of whitening agent, such as carbamide peroxide, hydrogen peroxide, or blue covarine. All of these products are safe, as long as you follow the manufacturers’ instructions.
Some dentists and manufacturers will recommend against long-term use of tooth-whitening toothpastes, especially brands that have abrasives. Although they are safe in that they aren’t life-threatening, they can cause your teeth to be sensitive. In fact, many of these teeth-whitening toothpastes are not intended for long-term use. Always read the small print on the packaging, or talk to your dentist.
Most research suggests that over-the-counter toothpastes will lighten your teeth color by one shade. In recent years, toothpastes with “activated charcoal” entered the market, but according to Healthline, there’s no evidence that these work and the risks aren’t known.
Are Tooth Whitening Strips and Gels Safe?
Whitening strips and gels can be bought over the counter at lower strengths, or from dental practices at higher strengths. The main ingredients in these products are usually some sort of formula that contains peroxide, although you can find the more preferred, peroxide-free whitening gel online.
Whitening strips and gels tend to be more effective than toothpastes because they are left on for longer and contain more of the whitening agents. The risks of strips and paint-on gels are tooth sensitivity and gum irritation. Some dentists recommend testing an area before using the products throughout your mouth.
Teeth whitening strips and gels are safe products as long as they are used as prescribed and not used if you have other dental conditions, such as gum disease or cavities. See your dentist before using any type of teeth whitening product.
Is Teeth Bleaching Safe?
Contrary to what its name suggests, teeth bleaching does not use bleach. Teeth bleaching is defined as a process that lightens the color of your teeth, usually by using a whitening agent like hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Some also contain an ingredient called blue covarine, which leaves a thin, temporary layer of film over the teeth to brighten them.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, there were some studies that suggested that long-term use of whitening products could be harmful to teeth. However, those studies were not done on living teeth — they were performed in a lab.
Teeth bleaching products are safe, as long as they are used as directed and as long as the user does not have dental issues that contraindicate tooth whitening, such as gum disease.
What About Tray-Based Teeth Whiteners?
Teeth whitening kits that come in trays fit over your mouth for several hours; some are used overnight. As with the other teeth whitening products covered in this article, the key to tooth-whitening safety is in following the instructions.
See your dentist for a regular checkup and X-rays to rule out cavities, gum disease, and other contraindications. Then, follow the instructions for the tooth whitener. If it says to leave the tray on for only 4 hours, then leave it on for no longer than 4 hours. If you start to notice inflammation or tooth sensitivity, stop using it.
Risks Associated With DIY Teeth Whitening
Most people experience no side effects when they whiten their teeth, but some to note include:
● Tooth sensitivity
● Tooth discoloration (over bleaching)
● Lack of results
● Gum sensitivity
If you notice any of the above or other side effects that concern you, such as mouth sores or pain, stop using the teeth whitening product and notify your dentist.