Teeth Whitening Safety Guidelines for Strips, Pens & More.
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Table of Contents
- Product Options
- Staying Safe
- Professional Options
- Is It Worthwhile?
- Frequently Asked Questions
If your pearly whites are no longer quite so pearly or white, you might be tempted to run to the pharmacy to pick up an at-home tooth whitening kit. Once there, plenty of choices await you.
Teeth whitening solutions come packaged in foams, pastes, strips, pens, brushes, and more. If you choose the right product and follow instructions, these products are typically safe.
But these products are powerful, and they aren't right for everyone. To protect your teeth, follow best practices and allow a professional to supervise your progress.
Plenty of products available.
There's more than one way to whiten your teeth. In fact, there are dozens of them.
At-home tooth-whitening products include:
Products work in one of two ways. Some are abrasive, and they scratch and scrape the tooth's surface. If your teeth are discolored due to surface staining or persistent plaque, these products can be helpful.
But use them too often, and you can erode healthy tissue. Bleach-based products sit on your teeth and lighten stains both on the surface and just below. They are stronger than abrasives, so they are appropriate for deeper stains. But these products can be uncomfortable for those with sensitive teeth.
Use these products as directed, and they are safe, researchers say. But the risks are real, and they can include tooth softening, increased sensitivity, and gum irritation.
Before you run out to the store, pick up a product, and apply it, know that the tool in your hands can be dangerous. Follow best practices to protect your smile.
How to stay safe while whitening teeth at home.
Your teeth are more than decorative. You use them to eat, talk, and more. It's reasonable to want white, beautiful teeth. But you must protect them and keep them healthy too.
Ensure that you don't harm your teeth. Follow these steps:
Check With Your Dentist First
Everyone wants a brighter smile. But whitening products aren't safe for all teeth. Extreme sensitivity and root damage could make at-home tooth whitening risky.
See a dentist before you apply any product to your teeth, says Delta Dental. An exam helps professionals spot problems and treat them before you use a whitening agent.
Be A Smart Shopper
The American Dental Association certifies products that are both safe and effective. Approved products have a well-defined seal printed right on the packages. Look for that logo as you shop, experts say.
If you don't see the seal, don't buy the product. Unmarked solutions could be ineffective or even dangerous.
Don't start your path to a brighter smile with intense, powerful products. Your teeth might be yellow or dull due to something easy to amend, like surface stains or plaque.
Start with simple products. Whitening toothpastes, for example, remove surface stains. Some contain ingredients that make your teeth look whiter and brighter.
The shift can be subtle, but use the products for two to six weeks, and you should see changes. If you don't, it becomes appropriate to graduate to stronger products that can bleach your teeth.
Brush Before Using
You tried toothpaste, and you didn't see changes you wanted. Whitening strips, gels, and foams offer your next best chance at white teeth. Typically, you apply these products directly to your teeth and leave them on for a bit as they work.
Always brush your teeth before you get started, says Humana. Skip that step, and you could adhere plaque to your teeth, and that could cause accelerated decay and yet more discoloration.
Stop If You Feel Pain
Nerve endings don't reach the tooth's surface. Products slathered on your smile shouldn't hurt your teeth. But if the gels or foams slide down your teeth and into your gums, pain begins.
Similarly, some products wear down protective tooth enamel, and that leads to increased heat and cold sensitivity. Don't ignore signs of pain. They tell you that something about the product you're using or the way you're using that product is harming your mouth.
In fact, that pain sensation is so important that some experts encourage dentists to avoid numbing agents while whitening teeth. Listen to pain signals carefully.
Use As Directed
Keep the packaging associated with your tooth whitening product. You will see instructions about how to use the substance and how often you can repeat treatments. Don't ignore these guidelines.
Tooth whitening products are strong, and if you use them too often, they can damage your teeth. Researchers say overuse of teeth bleaches is similar to overuse of hair bleach, but you may not see the dental damage. Don't risk your health by overdoing the treatments.
Professional whitening options.
There's one class of dental bleaches we haven't discussed yet. Dental professionals administer these products, but you use them at home. Think of them as slightly more powerful than products you would buy in a store, but they're not as intense as therapies dentists use within their offices.
An at-home kit like this includes:
- Trays. These fit around your teeth, and you should have two sets. One sits on the upper teeth, and one fits on the lower teeth.
- Solution. Gels, foams, and liquids are common. Put them into the trays before treatment.
- Instructions. You should know when and how to use these products. Follow these instructions closely.
These products can be stronger than those you buy in a store. Assess your pain level carefully, and if you feel discomfort, reach out to your dentist.
Experts say discomfort can stem from bleaching trays. If they don't fit your teeth just right, roots and gums can be exposed and harmed.
Use aligners, and you may have a built-in solution. Aligners fit your teeth like a glove as they gently push your smile in a new direction. Those same tools, filled with the right solution, can whiten your teeth as they straighten your smile.
Use products made to intersect with aligners. Some bleaching products are too strong for aligners, and melting and damage can occur. Protect your investment in straight teeth by sticking to the products your aligner company approves.
Is a whiter smile worthwhile?
Your smile is one of the first things people notice. Most people have teeth that are slightly yellowed with food stains and age.
But bright, white teeth give you an aura of health and attractiveness that helps you stand out. Use the right products in the right way, and you can have that whiter smile without risking your health.
Teeth whitening FAQs.
Can teeth whitening be harmful?
There are lots of safe and effective teeth whitening options that are dentist-recommended, but it is possible to hurt your oral health when you whiten your teeth.
If you use a product in ways that are not recommended, you might irritate your gums, which can lead to gum disease. You could thin your enamel and develop sensitive teeth, or it could cause your teeth to become stained due to enamel damage. If your gums or teeth become damaged due to teeth whitening, you are at greater risk of gum disease and tooth decay.
What is the safest way to whiten your teeth?
The safest way to whiten your teeth is by talking to your dentist and looking for products that have been approved by the American Dental Association (ADA).
When you talk to your dentist, they will discuss your oral health, so you have a better idea of which products are most safe and effective for your teeth. For example, if you have naturally thin enamel, you might benefit from topical bleaches but not charcoal-based toothpastes. Your dentist can also bleach your teeth for you or provide a referral to a dental specialist who offers this cosmetic option.
You should also look for the ADA’s seal of approval on over-the-counter teeth whitening products. The ADA reviews product safety on a regular basis, so you can feel confident using options that they have reviewed.
Can I use multiple types of teeth whiteners at the same time?
Can I use over-the-counter teeth whiteners, or ask my dentist to do it?
There are several over-the-counter products the ADA has recommended that can improve the whiteness of your teeth when used as directed. However, dental professionals understand your oral health better, are trained in teeth whitening techniques, and use products that can more effectively whiten your teeth.
For convenience, you may choose to use over-the-counter products at home, but you also might feel safer working with your dentist.
How often should I get my teeth whitened?
The frequency of teeth whitening depends on the options you choose, but ultimately, you shouldn’t get them whitened very often.
Professional bleaching can last between one and three years, so you should not get it done more than once per year. Dentist-provided whitening kits typically work for about a year.
Over-the-counter home whitening options typically do not whiten your teeth as much as professional bleaching kits, and their effects only last for a few months. You should not use them for more than two weeks at a time. If you find yourself using over-the-counter kits as often as is safe, you might consider getting professional bleaching for better, long-lasting results.
Tooth Whitening: What We Now Know. (June 2014). The Journal of Evidence-Based Dental Practice.
The Risks of Tooth Whitening. (August 2010). Delta Dental.
Is Teeth Whitening Safe? (May 2019). Cleveland Clinic.
Mayo Clinic Q and A: Many Safe Choices Available to Help Whiten Teeth. (July 2015). Mayo Clinic.
Understanding Whitening Strips. Humana.
Whitening. (August 2019). American Dental Association.
How Whitening Strips Can Damage Your Teeth. (April 2019). Medical News Today.
Teeth Whitening. (August 2018). National Health Service.