Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

By:    Published: October 29, 2012

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One of the hottest beauty trends in recent years is getting bright white teeth. More and more people are looking for professional and over-the-counter teeth whitening treatments that will make their smile sparkle. In fact, the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD) reports that teeth whitening is the most requested of all dental services. But, is teeth whitening safe? Do teeth whitening procedures and products come with any risks? Read on to learn the answer.

Types Of Teeth Whitening Products And Services

Teeth whitening products and services are currently a booming business in the U.S. According to How Stuff Works, about 10 million Americans will buy teeth whitening products or services this year, spending a total of 1.7 billion dollars.

In general, teeth whitening products use either carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide as the active ingredient. These are both bleaching chemicals that break apart the staining compounds that sit on your tooth enamel.

There are two main options for getting your teeth whitened:

  • In-office treatments: These are services performed by (or at least supervised by) a dentist in their dental offices. Usually, the treatment includes a general check-up and cleaning. Most in-office treatments utilize hydrogen peroxide gels coupled with a high-intensity light that speeds up the bleaching chemical reaction. Sometimes, the dentist will also prescribe an at-home treatment to further the whitening process.
  • Over-the-counter products: These are store-bought products found in most pharmacies, drug stores and major retailers like Target. Most use a carbamide or hydrogen peroxide gel on a polyethylene strip. The strips are placed over the teeth temporarily, giving the bleaching chemicals time to work.

Many of the largest brands in dental care now have entire lines of teeth whitening products. Examples of these types of products include Crest Whitestrips and Colgate Optic White. Many dentists will recommend these products, but only after a check-up to see the condition and health of a patient’s mouth. Otherwise, it’s difficult to tell how much and how often is appropriate for getting the desired results.

Another factor to consider is the time it takes for results to appear. Generally, in-office treatments have faster results than over-the-counter products. If you want your teeth to get significantly whiter in a short amount of time, in-office treatments are preferable. If you don’t mind waiting weeks or months for results to appear, you can save time and money with over-the-counter products.

[Related: The Best Teeth Whitening Methods And Products]

Is Teeth Whitening Safe?

Generally, any teeth whitening treatments performed in a licensed dentist’s office are safe and effective. Their expertise ensures that your teeth are being cared for and that you’ll get real results. However, these treatments are less convenient and more expensive than over-the-counter products.

How can you tell which over-the-counter products are safe? The first thing you need to look for is the ADA Seal of Acceptance. This means that the product has met the American Dental Associations standards for safety and effectiveness.

Secondly, you’ll want to look at the type and level of active ingredients. Most products with the ADA seal of acceptance have about 10 percent carbamide peroxide. However, this isn’t a proper level for everyone. You’ll need to see your dentist to find out which products are truly safe for you. It’s also wise to get your teeth professionally cleaned and have any cavities filled before using over-the-counter teeth whitening products.

[Related: The Main Causes Of Cavities And Tooth Decay]

Overuse Of Teeth Whitening Products

Several painful symptoms are associated with the overuse of teeth whitening products as well as the use of products which are too harsh. These symptoms include:

  • Tooth pain or sensitivity
  • Gum irritation
  • Breakdown of tooth enamel

There are actually a few cases of what some call “dental dysmorphia” or “bleachorexia” where individuals become obsessed with teeth whitening. These people always see room for improvement even when their teeth are already quite white. They may even resort to doing teeth whitening treatments in secret to hide their obsession. This can be especially damaging for tooth enamel and can lead to painful problems that can seriously affect the individual’s dental health.

[Related: 10 Tips On How To Whiten Teeth Naturally]

There isn’t a general recommendation for all individuals interested in teeth whitening. As mentioned above, you’ll need to see your dentist to find out which chemicals and products will work best for you. However, if you are using an over-the-counter product, one thing you can do to prevent overuse is to follow the product directions carefully. Don’t use the product more often than suggested. And if you experience any pain or sensitivity, use the product less frequently.

Bottom Line

When choosing an over-the-counter tooth whitening product, always consult your dentist. They can tell you whether the product is safe and how often you should be doing it. You can also ask your dentist to recommend a tooth whitening service that is effective and safe. Finally, if you are experiencing any pain, irritation or enamel breakdown due to the use of teeth whitening products and services, make an appointment with your dentist to have it checked out.

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