There are a lot of things people will do for a beautiful, healthy smile. It makes sense; your smile is one of the first things people notice, and it can make or break a first impression. Having a consistent oral hygiene routine is a great way of achieving a whiter smile, but you may ask yourself if you could be doing more. This is especially true if your teeth aren’t as bright as they could be.
A popular way to achieve a perfect set of teeth is using whitening agents. Options range from going to a dental professional to buying bleaching kits over the counter. But are all options equal? Are some options of teeth whitening bad for you?
Is Teeth Whitening Harmful?
If you’re thinking about lightening those pearly whites, the first thing to consider is what’s staining them yellow. When teeth become discolored, it’s because something causes them to stain. Stains can come from various factors like poor oral hygiene or drinking coffee or wine. So, how does teeth whitening work? According to the NCBI, the whitening procedure is the physical removal of the stain or a chemical reaction to lighten the tooth color.1
Types of Stains
Most tooth discoloration falls into two categories: extrinsic and intrinsic stains.
- Extrinsic stains impact the enamel, which is the outer layer of the teeth. Enamel is discolored easily by things like coffee or smoking, but surface stains can usually be removed.
- Intrinsic stains come from inside of the tooth. This can be due to medication use, childhood illness, infection, tooth trauma, or aging.2 This discoloration may require a more heavy-duty, professional whitening from a dentist.
Before deciding on which lightening method you will use, it’s important to understand what caused the discoloration. There are different factors to consider, so if you are unsure, talk to your hygienist or dentist.
Other than stains, there are other factors that can cause tooth discoloration.
- Genetics – In some cases, teeth appear less white naturally. This has to do with the thickness of your enamel, which is semi-translucent.3 If you have thin enamel, the color of the dentin below will show through. And that color may not be white.
- Age – With age comes thinning enamel, which makes teeth look yellow. To treat this, be sure to use fluoride and combat dry mouth. Saliva can remove unwanted material from teeth, much like fluoride mouthwashes and toothpaste.3 Try a fluoridated toothpaste and drink lots of water. If you typically wake up with a dry mouth, try leaving a glass of water by your bedside.
- Illness and Injury – Illnesses like neonatal jaundice and infection can cause teeth yellowing, and injuries in young children can “disturb the formation of tooth enamel when kids’ permanent teeth are still developing and can result in a grayish appearance.”3 Teeth grinding can also damage the enamel.
Is Whitening Your Teeth Bad For You?
There are many options when it comes to brightening your smile and removing tooth surface stains, whether you use at-home products or make a trip to the dentist. So, is teeth whitening harmful? The answer is: it depends. The risks vary depending on which you choose and how often you are using whitening agents.
As for how to whiten your teeth at home naturally, the market is extensive. You can find whitening toothpaste, strips, gels, rinses, trays, and more. There are even charcoal whitening kits and LED light-powered systems often advertised on social media. Every technique is different, some use chemicals and peroxides, while others are less abrasive.
Do your research on the products you choose and be wary of false-advertising and harmful materials. Take a look at the top teeth whitening methods for reference.
- Whitening strips – Studies have shown that collagen in the dentin layer “decreased when teeth were treated with whitening strips.”4 However, it is unclear whether this tissue damage is permanent.
- Charcoal Scrubs – There’s no evidence that shows whitening products with charcoal are safe or effective and are not approved by the ADA or FDA. In fact, overuse could even damage the enamel and leave teeth even more discolored. Despite this, advertisers continue to market these products to unsuspecting buyers.
Even when over-the-counter whitening has the proper bleaching agents, the process isn’t monitored by a dentist or hygienist, so there is the potential for misuse or overuse. If you are prone to sensitivity or have questions about the effectiveness of certain products, your dentist is a great resource.
Natural Whitening Remedies
Along with store-bought whitening products, many people also use natural lightening methods from materials found right at home.
- Baking Soda – Baking soda is found in many whitening toothpastes. It’s a mild abrasive, so it can help to get rid of bacteria in your mouth and remove extrinsic stains. Just be sure to avoid swallowing any of it. Like swallowing toothpaste or mouthwash, it can cause an upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Oil Pulling – Oil pulling is a remedy with Indian roots that has gained newfound popularity. Basically, you swish coconut oil around in your mouth for 15-20 minutes, and the claim is that it has antibacterial properties and will reduce plaque. There’s not a lot of scientific backing to its effectiveness, but it is safe to experiment with.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – ACV is a popular natural house cleaner and can be effective at removing stains from teeth as well, but there are risks. Apple Cider Vinegar can erode and soften teeth because of its acidity. If you want to try this teeth whitening method, don’t overuse it or leave it on for too long in one sitting.
Professional teeth whitening is hands down the safest and most effective choice when it comes to brightening your smile.
- Dentists whiten your teeth faster because they protect your gums before applying the whitening agent, allowing them to use higher concentrations of peroxide. This is recommended for intrinsic stains.
- Some techniques use an intense blue light to increase the oxidation of chromogens,1 chemically speeding up stain removal.
- Dental professionals look at a variety of factors like past dental and medical history, allergies, and teeth sensitivity to ensure that the way they whiten your teeth works best for you. They understand how bleaching agents function. You can trust trained professionals to protect your mouth from side-effects and give you the whitest teeth.
Both at-home and professional whitening can be safe when done correctly. Whether you opt for OTC whitening or get a professional procedure, it’s always a good idea to talk to your dentist about your safest options. The biggest reason issues arise is from misuse of whitening products.
Movie stars and other celebrities are known for glowing pearly whites, and new affordable lightening options have made teeth whitening even more common. The problem is, the pressure to maintain a perfect smile can lead to risk factors like over-bleaching.
Too much whitening can cause side-effects, including:
- Tooth sensitivity
- Gum irritation
- Tissue damage
- Tooth damage
Whitening is often associated with heightened sensitivity, but the human body is resilient. Hydrogen peroxide-based whitening has been around for decades and used by many people, including dentists. Researchers haven’t seen much in terms of an increase in cavities or tooth fractures as a direct result of bleaching.5 However, the research is still new, so moderation is key.
Here are a few ways to prevent issues associated with whitening:
- Follow Instructions – For DIY lightening kits, the most important thing to do is follow the directions carefully and err on the side of caution. For example, if you’re using whitening strips, only keep them on your teeth for the allotted amount of time.
- Be Patient – Regardless of which method you choose, patience is critical. Use bleaching agents only as much as recommended. If you are seeking faster results, talk to your dentist about more efficient options.
- Trust the Experts – Professional bleaching not only works faster but also prevents sensitivity and other issues from whitening. Dentists are trained in techniques to keep your teeth and gums protected, and the whiter results mean you won’t be as tempted to over-bleach. Getting a routine cleaning can even remove superficial stains without the need for whitening agents.
At the end of the day, the best way to maintain your teeth’s light color is to prevent stains from happening in the first place. Teeth whitening is a popular trend that isn’t going away any time soon, but the brighter your natural smile, the less you will have to worry about it.
- Good oral hygiene prevents stains from forming and will help to maintain whiteness after a bleaching whitening procedure. Hygienists and dentists both recommend water flossing as one of the best ways to maintain whiteness so you won’t be tempted to overuse lightening products.
- Utilize products like whitening toothpaste that eradicate stains as they form without a high concentration of bleaching agents.
- Pay attention to the things you are consuming. If you are a big coffee or wine drinker, make sure to brush and floss thoroughly to limit the number of stains, and consider decreasing your intake.
- Consider products that simplify your oral hygiene routine and ensure you’re taking the very best care of your gums and teeth, like the ToothShower.
White teeth come across as healthy and attractive, and make you feel confident in your smile. There are many effective ways to lighten those chompers a shade or two without compromising your safety. Keep up with your daily brushing and flossing routine, cut down on wine and cigarettes, and be careful when it comes to whitening products. The key is to use these methods the right way and seek professional dental advice for the best options for you.
- NCBI. Tooth Whitening: What We Now Know. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4058574/
- Healthline. Teeth Whitening Options and Safety. https://www.healthline.com/health/is-teeth-whitening-safe
- LiveScience. Why Do Teeth Turn Yellow? https://www.livescience.com/54420-yellow-teeth.html
- Science Daily. Teeth whitening products can harm protein-rich tooth layer. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190409135928.htm
- Cleveland Clinic. Is Teeth Whitening Safe? https://health.clevelandclinic.org/is-teeth-whitening-safe/