Is tooth whitening safe?

Done under the care and supervision of a dentist, tooth whitening is safe. Your dentist will examine and take x-rays of your teeth to make sure you are a good candidate for whitening. With whitening, only the pigments in the enamel of the teeth are whitened. Fillings and crowns do not whiten. Common side effects of whitening are sensitive teeth and sore gums. 
The ADA advises patients to first consult with their dentist to determine the most appropriate treatment for whitening. A thorough oral examination by a dentist is essential to determine if bleaching is an appropriate course of treatment. This is especially important for patients with many fillings, crowns, and extremely dark stains on their teeth. 

Several whitening toothpastes that are available over-the-counter (OTC) have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance, which means they have been thoroughly tested for safety and effectiveness.
Jonathan B. Levine, DMD
Tooth whitening is safe if you follow directions of the manufacturer and do not overuse the products. All of them will give some level of whitening and know that not everyone whitens at the same rate.
Josh Berd, DDS
Americans love a bright white smile, so much so that tooth whitening has become the most popular aesthetic dental treatment. 

One side effect of Tooth Whitening is hypersensitivity. This may be caused by peroxide gel permeating into the sensitive pulp of the tooth, or creating biochemical changes which bother the tooth’s nerve. The actual whitening process of ‘oxidation’ may also contribute to hypersensitivity by dehydrating the tooth. For most patients, sensitivity is mild and lasts only a few days. Studies have not found any long-term negative effects of whitening.

The following conditions may predispose a person to hypersensitivity from whitening: gum recession, clenching/grinding of teeth, acidic diet (including colas), bulimia, and acid reflux. Consult your dentist regarding your oral health prior to whitening.

What are some helpful tips for people interested in Whitening their Teeth? Toothpastes containing potassium nitrate containing (such as Synsodyne) can help minimize tooth hypersensitivity. Also using a whitening gel with lower peroxide concentration over a longer period of time may be more comfortable (and effective) than a fast, large dose.

Many dentists advertise that in-office laser whitening (such as ZOOM) will produce the best results; however, this is not supported with clinical data. Both laser whitening and at-home whitening use carbamide peroxide and both can achieve similar results. In-office whitening can be done in one visit but also comes with a $500-$800 price tag. At-home whitening ranges from $250-400 and can be used at home at your leisure. Popular over-the-counter products such as Crest White Strips are placed across the teeth. While Crest contends they work, they tend to whiten only the front teeth, and it may be tricky to keep the strip from sliding off your teeth since it is not a custom fit to your tooth anatomy.
Many tooth whitening procedures are perfectly safe as long as they are performed correctly. Regardless of which procedure you choose, you should consult your dentist before trying anything. They will be able to tell you whether or not the procedures you plan to use will damage your teeth or cause problems with your gums. If you want to whiten your teeth at home, look for whitening products that have been approved by the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA only approves products that are safe to use, but it is still up to you to follow the instructions for the procedure you choose. Over bleaching your teeth or bleaching them incorrectly could cause problems down the road.
While teeth whitening has been generally accepted as a safe and effective treatment, there is the potential for abuse and misuse of teeth whitening products. Another concern is overuse of teeth whitening products. Many people are unaware that with all hydrogen peroxide products (including hair bleaching), teeth whitening works by the process of oxidation, which can be stressful to the oral environment including soft tissues (i.e, gums) in the mouth which depend on proper levels of important antioxidants to protect cells from free radical damage. The oxidation process of whitening, also known as Oxidative Stress, can be very harmful over time and has been linked to the promulgation of many diseases including cancers. While inconclusive, there is cause for concern with the unsupervised and improper use of many OTC peroxide-based whitening products in the mouth.  

In addition, some teeth whitening products were found to have dangerous concentrations of hydrogen peroxide that can cause chemical burns, tooth sensitivity, and in severe cases permanent tooth damage. With all teeth whitening, you should consult with your dentist first, to ensure that you are a candidate and in good dental condition prior to treatment. The products selected should be ADA approved, and many of the professionally supervised in-office teeth whitening applies a protective cover over the gums while whitening. I utilize a vitamin-rich 'gum mask' in the mouth following all of our teeth whitening procedures to restore and replenish antioxidants (especially vitamin C, E and coenzyme Q-10) that are lost during the whitening process. 

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.