Can Teeth Whitening Cause Permanent Damage?

Teeth whitening is a multibillion-dollar industry, with countless products available over the counter, on the internet and from your dentist.  The widespread availability of these products may lead some people to believe that they are harmless.  Unfortunately, some of the chemicals contained in teeth whitening products can do damage to your teeth and gums.

What are the Risks of Teeth Whitening?

brown haired girl looking to right side, with embarrassed face
Unfortunately, some of the chemicals contained in teeth whitening products can do damage to your teeth and gums.

The good news is that most of the damage that teeth whitening can potentially cause is only temporary.  However, if you use whitening products without the supervision of a dentist for a long period of time, you may experience some permanent damage.

Tooth Sensitivity

The strong chemicals in teeth whitening gels can cause temporary inflammation of the nerve inside the teeth.  This reaction is worse in patients with gum recession and exposed tooth roots.  The sensitivity causes discomfort or pain when eating or drinking cold foods and beverages.  It can become so severe that you have pain just when breathing air in through the mouth.

If teeth whitening gel comes into contact with the nerve of the tooth through large, untreated cavities, permanent nerve damage can result, leading to the need for extensive dental treatment.

Chemical Burns on Gum Tissue

High concentrations of carbamide peroxide or hydrogen peroxide teeth whitening gel are not safe for the soft tissues inside the mouth.  If the gel contacts the lining of the cheeks, lips, tongue and/or gums, a chemical burn results.  The gums will turn white and blister in a painful reaction to this strong gel.

Thankfully, these burns are temporary and heal relatively quickly.  You may need to treat them with a soothing vitamin E gel or other medication to alleviate the pain.  Patients with active gingivitis should not use whitening gels, as it will increase the inflammation in the gums.

Decrease in the Hardness of Enamel

Scientific research shows that the use of these chemicals on tooth enamel leads to a decrease in its microhardness.  It can also cause a change in the mineral content of enamel, weakening it and making it more susceptible to cavities.  This is where specific ingredients in teeth whitening gel become very important.

Many whitening gels are acidic in pH, which is erosive and weakening to tooth enamel.  Never, ever put anything acidic on your teeth!  It dissolves away enamel, making it thinner and easier for cavities to break through.

To fight this decrease in hardness, many professional teeth whitening products have minerals added to their formulations.  These minerals work to strengthen enamel and counteract the effects of the chemicals in the whitening gels.

What Products Should I Avoid?

Colored letters that say "D", "I", and "Y"
Avoid anything containing fruit juices, like many DIY or homemade teeth whitening recipes.

You should avoid anything over the counter or on the internet that does not have the Seal of Approval by the American Dental Association.  The ADA tests products to confirm both their safety and their effectiveness.

Avoid anything containing fruit juices, like many DIY or homemade teeth whitening recipes.  These are always acidic in pH, and they will weaken your enamel.

Avoid using professional strength products (a very high concentration of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide) without your dentist’s supervision.

Avoid using professional strength products without a custom-fitted whitening tray.  The perfect fit against your teeth of a custom-made tray prevents high concentrations of gel from contacting your gums, lips, cheeks, and tongue.

How Can I Safely Whiten My Teeth?

There are many safe ways to whiten your teeth.  The first step, though, is always consulting your dentist about the health of your teeth and gums.  After you know that you are free from any active cavities or gum disease, you can begin whitening with over-the-counter products, or you can work with your dentist to use professional products.

Over-the-counter products that contain either hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the active ingredient will whiten your teeth.  Make sure to look for the Seal of Approval from the American Dental Association.  The delivery methods vary, and some are easier to use than others are.  Crest WhiteStrips are simple to use and effective.  They keep the whitening gel where it belongs: on the teeth.

If you prefer a faster, better result, ask us about professional teeth whitening.  With custom-fitted trays and a high strength professional whitening gel, you will experience results that are more noticeable in a shorter amount of time.  You will also have the added benefit of the dentist customizing and overseeing your treatment.

What about Whitening Toothpastes?

white toothpaste bottle squeezing out toothpaste that spells into "White"
Check for the Seal of Approval from the American Dental Association. This means the toothpaste has been tested for safety and passed.

Whitening toothpastes are great for polishing away superficial stains and helping you maintain your white smile.  Because they are abrasive, they gently remove stains that collect on the surface of the enamel.  They do not penetrate into the teeth and actually change their color (like whitening gels do).

You must be careful with whitening toothpastes, too.  Some are too abrasive and can remove enamel.  Again, check for the Seal of Approval from the American Dental Association.  This means that it has been tested for safety and passed.

You should not use whitening toothpastes if your teeth are sensitive or if you have exposed roots due to gum recession.  If this is true for you, speak to your dentist about teeth whitening options that will not cause more sensitivity or damage your roots.

More Questions about Teeth Whitening?

Call today to schedule a consultation with our dentists.  We can answer all of your questions about teeth whitening and help you decide which option is best for you.