Is teeth whitening safe?
Turning yellow over time is an inevitable thing for teeth. Many people who cannot take this “bitter truth” opt for teeth whitening methods. Despite some possible side effects, most of them are safe if performed properly.
Why do teeth get discolored?
There are two main causes of tooth discoloration, including:
1. Extrinsic discoloration
It is when foods, drinks or smoking habits stain your teeth yellow. Coffee, tea, red wine, foods containing artificial colors, and cigarettes are the “hidden enemies” that contribute to the loss of the initial white, shiny look of teeth.
If your teeth are stained because of this, treatment options can include using teeth whitening toothpaste or whitening tools at home. The stains will be removed easily, returning your teeth to their original color.
2. Intrinsic discoloration
Your teeth can get discolored due to antibiotic use, childhood disease, infection, injuries, or aging. This type of discoloration needs to be reversed by professional teeth whitening procedures.
Teeth whitening options
There are 3 teeth whitening options:
- Professional in-office teeth whitening
- At-home teeth whitening as instructed by a dentist
- Do-it-yourself teeth whitening without a dentist’s guidance
You can choose the right option based on one or more of the following factors:
- Causes of your tooth discoloration
- Treatment cost
- Age range
- Dental history
The time needed for safe teeth whitening depends on the causes of discoloration and the whitening method you use.
Professional teeth whitening
Dentists usually whiten teeth with carbamide peroxide. This chemical decomposes into hydrogen peroxide and urea which directly target the stains on your teeth and eliminate them. This whitening procedure takes more than an hour and is considered safe.
If the discoloration is mild, your dentist may advise you to whiten your teeth at home. They will give you a whitening tray that works well for your teeth color. Apply the gel to the tray and wear it on your teeth for about 30 to 60 minutes a day. This method won’t give quick results and will take some short periods of time (about a few weeks).
Do-it-yourself teeth whitening
You can purchase OTC whitening products to whiten your teeth. Unlike the products prescribed by dentists, OTC products contain no to very little carbamide peroxide. This means if your teeth are discolored intrinsically, OTC whiteners won’t take much effect or will take plenty of time to do so.
Teeth whitening toothpaste
This kind of toothpaste doesn’t contain carbamide peroxide. Instead, its active ingredients, including abrasives and blue covarine, target the tooth surface. This method requires patience as your teeth won’t become white after only 1 to 2 times of brushing.
Non-prescription teeth whitening strips are available at many pharmacies and you can get them very easily. OTC whitening strips contain smaller amounts of hydrogen peroxide than professional products. Apply the strips on your teeth as instructed by the manufacturer. Do this once or twice a day.
Activated carbon and other whitening ingredients
Many people prefer using do-it-yourself whiteners for their convenience. Activated carbon is one of the most commonly chosen ingredients, followed by baking soda, coconut oil, hydrogen peroxide, and rice water. However, there is a risk of tooth damage posed by these ingredients. Therefore, make sure to consult with your dentist before trying anything.
Side effects of teeth whitening
Although teeth whitening is rather safe, you may experience some side effects such as:
- Tooth sensitivity. Your teeth may become sensitive, especially to overly hot, cold, and sour foods a few days after treatment. This problem will eventually go away on its own. If the sensitivity is severe, your dentist will treat it with products containing potassium nitrate and sodium fluoride.
- Irritated gums. This is caused by the direct contact between your gums and the whitening products. Gum irritation will disappear after a few hours following the treatment.
Maintain the results
You won’t get permanent results after one time of teeth whitening. No matter how good they are, teeth whitening products can only keep teeth white for some time and the staining will return. To maintain the whitening results for as long as possible, do the following:
- Avoid colored, sugary, and starchy foods as well as drinks like tea, coffee, and red wine.
- Use dental floss and mouthwash or brush your teeth after eating to prevent plaque buildup.
- Visit your dentist regularly to keep the undesired side effects away.