Having teeth that are a bit yellowed, stained, or dingy looking can have a serious impact on your confidence. Whether it’s from tobacco, coffee, or just age, your teeth have lost their brightness, and now you avoid smiling in social settings and having your picture taken. You’ve looked into teeth whitening products and having it professionally done, but you’re worried that you may end up damaging your teeth.
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How Does Teeth Whitening Work?
No matter what kind of product, a professional whitening solution or an over-the-counter option, most work by bleaching stains off your teeth. Gels include an active whitening agent, generally carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide. The oxygen in the solutions react with the stains in your teeth, breaking them down and leaving you with whiter teeth.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. Much of the effectiveness of teeth whitening products is dependent on the strength of the peroxide concentration in the solution combined with how long it sits on the teeth.
Are Over the Counter Teeth Whitening Products Safe?
When you go to the drug store or grocery store for toothpaste, you see a wide variety of teeth whitening products available, from charcoal toothpastes and whitening toothpastes to bleaching gel pens and strips that go over your teeth. You’re not sure if any of these are even safe to use, much less effective. So, first, let’s tackle the safety of over-the-counter whitening options.
Whitening toothpastes combine mild abrasives, such as baking soda, with a very small amount of peroxide to help brighten teeth. While most users don’t see dramatic results – many only report a shade or two of lightening – a whitening toothpaste that is certified by the American Dental Association is safe when used as directed.
The key term is “used as directed,” in that gentle brushing with a soft toothbrush will not only provide some mild whitening, it will help fight cavities and gum disease. However, trying to “scrub” your teeth with an abrasive toothpaste, brushing multiple times (4 or more) during the day, or leaving it on for too long, can actually do more harm than good by damaging the tooth enamel.
Teeth Whitening Gels and Strips
Over-the-counter teeth whitening gels or strips are generally used once or twice a day for anywhere from five to 14 days. Unlike toothpastes, these solutions contain a much higher amount of peroxide, up to a 20 percent peroxide solution. This stronger solution is able to bleach extrinsic (surface) stains from the teeth.
The three areas of concern related to these over the counter whitening solutions are:
- The whitening pens where you “paint” the solution on, often don’t sit on the teeth and fully penetrate the stains. Users report a lower rate of success.
- If there is decay, an unfilled cavity or other problems with the teeth, these whitening agents may cause pain and make the cavity worse.
- Some users may not follow the instructions, choosing to leave the strips or solutions on for a longer time or using them for a longer amount of days.
While these aren’t dangerous when used correctly, if you use these bleaching solutions frequently or for extended periods of time, you may experience the following complications:
- Irritation or injury to the gums
- Permanent tooth sensitivity
- Damaged enamel
When used as directed, these over the counter whitening pens and strips are generally safe and the effects last between four and six months. However, without the care of a cosmetic dentist overseeing how much or how often these are being used, we can’t say that they are safe for an individual patient.
Can Professional Teeth Whitening Harm My Teeth?
Having your teeth whitened professionally offers a more intensive whitening. In addition to getting the extrinsic stains off the teeth, professional bleaching can remove intrinsic stains below the enamel, creating an overall brighter smile. Additionally, the results from professional whitening tend to last longer, with many of our patients only needing touch-ups every few years, instead of every few months.
What makes this a safe option is that professional teeth whitening is done after consulting with a cosmetic dentist to ensure that your teeth are healthy and that you’re a good candidate for whitening. Once that has been determined, you’re fitted for custom trays that will be filled with a bleaching solution and fitted over your teeth. While some dentists use different methods, including doing the procedure in-office, others allow patients to apply the solution in the comfort of their home.
Complications from Professional Teeth Whitening
When you have your teeth professionally whitened, you may experience increased sensitivity, especially when eating cold or hot foods or drinking cold or hot beverages. This is temporary and should go away in a few days. Additionally, it is very important that if your cosmetic dentist gives you trays and solution to take home, you use it as directed to avoid any gum irritation.
Because professional teeth whitening tends to last a long period of time, the process is not repeated as frequently as it may be from over the counter whitening kits. That being said, continuing to use tobacco products or drink wine, coffee, soda, or consume other foods and drinks that stain your teeth, you may need a touch up earlier than average.
Contact Six Forks Smiles in Raleigh for a Teeth Whitening Consultation
Your smile is often one of the first things people notice about you! If you don’t like the look of your smile, and you’re not sure what you should do, we can help! We can determine if you’re a good candidate for teeth whitening and make sure your teeth are healthy enough to do it safely.