How Safe Is At-Home Tooth Whitening?

How Safe Is At-Home Tooth Whitening?



The teeth whitening business is booming, spurred on by the popularity of celebrity culture. You can’t open a magazine, turn on the TV or glance over social media without being bombarded with images of people with perfect smiles. What is worrying is that more and more regular people are opting to have their teeth whitened, so the treatment isn’t only confided to celebrities. Never has it been more fashionable to have a perfect set of pearly whites, but at what cost?

Few people have naturally white teeth, and most of us will suffer some form of dental staining throughout our lives, no matter how careful we are with our oral hygiene. Everyday food and drinks such as tea, coffee, wine, fruit and soda can also affect the whiteness of our teeth. There are also a number of health conditions that can alter the colour of your teeth. If you took certain antibiotics as a child, this can have an impact on teeth whiteness as an adult. Likewise if you’ve lived in an area with naturally high levels of fluoride in the water, or been exposed to a lot of fluoride as a child, this can cause discolouration in the teeth.

Earlier this year, the teeth whitening industry was valued at £2 billion and growing. Walk into any supermarket or pharmacy and you’ll see the shelves lined with at-home teeth whitening solutions, including toothpaste, mouthwash, whitening strips and whitening pens. These will typically contain baking soda to provide an abrasive action and help remove stains, or they might contain a low concentration of hydrogen peroxide. Unfortunately, these over-the-counter teeth whitening products rarely contain enough active ingredient to make any difference, so they are only a risk to your wallet. They might be good for maintaining oral hygiene and for removing some surface stains, but they likely won’t whiten your teeth by any significant amount.

When carrying out any teeth whitening procedure, the best results will always come from a trained dental professional, but even this isn’t without risk. A dentist or dental hygienist will be able to assess the health of your teeth and provide the best course of treatment. Although often cheaper, spas and salons offering teeth whitening for huge discounts are the biggest risk for your oral health. Without a doubt the riskiest procedures are those carried out by spa or beauty salons, as these will often contain high levels of hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. Teeth whitening should always be carried out by a trained professional, as there are many risks if it is not done properly. If you’re thinking about a whitening your teeth, you should be aware of the following risks before starting any treatment programme.

Increased sensitivity

The most painful and common side effect of teeth whitening is increased sensitivity. This might be a temporary side effect, or it could last for much longer. If you are using at-home trays, you might be more sensitive to hot and cold for a few days afterwards. Some people also report sharp stabbing pains that come on without warning. The only way to resolve this is to stop using the teeth whitening solution and find an alternative treatment. Some patients discover they have to have veneers fitted in order to achieve their desired levels of whiteness. This is a more expensive option, but it can also be used to make the teeth appear straighter, so it’s perfect if you’re also thinking about braces.

Uneven whitening

Some people’s teeth don’t take on an even shade, meaning you might have whiter patches alongside unbleached patches. This can be incredibly distressing as the colour difference is often very obvious. Some people might even have temporary horizontal lines that will disappear as time goes by. The best solution for this is to stop treatment and allow your teeth a chance to recover. Teeth whitening is incredibly dehydrating on the delicate tissues, and uneven colour can sometimes be a result of over whitening. The biggest mistake you can make is to continue with the treatments in the hope of whitening the unevenness out.

Root canals

Untrained professionals will not be able to tell if your teeth are in suitable condition for teeth whitening. A common problem that can lead to tooth loss is whitening a damaged or cracked tooth, which allows chemicals to seep into the sensitive root. If the whitening solution penetrates the tooth and reaches the pulp or nerve it can cause damage to the tooth root and lead to a root canal. With cosmetic surgery claims on the rise, it’s more important than ever before to make sure that your teeth whitening is carried out by a trained professional.

Damaged Gums

A common problem for at-home teeth whiteners is that the trays aren’t custom made, so excess product is able to leak onto the gums. This can lead to irritation, and in some cases, chemical burns. If you can’t afford custom trays, always be sparing with the product, as using too much will cause it to seep onto your gums and cause damage. A dentist will be able to build you custom mouth trays that will fit perfectly in your mouth, this is why it is important to make sure all treatments are carried out under the supervision of a trained specialist.

Online whitening kits have been found to contain dangerous levels of teeth whitening solution, and while you might think this will only accelerate the process, it’s actually very dangerous. Individuals in the UK have been sentenced to time in prison for selling dangerous teeth whitening kits that led to their customers developing chemical burns.

Obsessive Teeth Whitening


Some patients become obsessed with whitening their teeth that they take the treatments too far. Dentists can identify patients obsessed with teeth whitening by the health of their teeth. Symptoms of over whitening include brittle teeth, teeth with a blue tinge and transparent enamel. As a general rule, your teeth should never be whiter than the whites of your eyes. Although patients might want to top up their teeth whitening treatments, over-using whitening products can lead to lasting damage.

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