Teeth whitening products are available everywhere. They are sold in different forms including whitening toothpastes, tooth polishes, adhesive strips, bleaching kits, and professional whitening products. Ultimately, they all try to deliver the same result which is to make your smile a few shades lighter. There are many different pros and cons of teeth whitening products that we will discuss in this article. Some pros include a whiter smile, improved self-confidence, availability of home kits, instant results if done at the dentist’s office. Some cons include teeth sensitivity, a whitened smile is not permanent, some foods or drinks may have to be avoided, whitening does not work on fillings, veneers, crowns and bridges etc. You should consider all of these pros and cons of teeth whitening products before choosing to whiten your smile.
Teeth stained and darker over time
A tooth is composed of 3 layers: bright white layer of enamel on the outside, yellow layer of dentin in the middle and the core of the tooth is composed of red pulp (nerve). With age, the outermost layer of enamel thins, causing the dentin to show through more. This makes your teeth appear more yellow as a result. The thinning of enamel can be due to daily wear and tear through grinding/clenching and dental erosion that is caused by acidic drinks.
Bad habits such as smoking can also contribute to darker teeth color due to tar staining. Unfortunately, tar stains are almost impossible to remove without professional help.
Surprisingly, some abrasive teeth whitening products whiten your teeth in the short run but the roughened surface on teeth caused by them can stain teeth even more easily in the long run.
Lastly, the things that you eat and drink such as wine, coffee and soy sauce can also leave stains behind.
What is inside the whitening products?
Majority of whitening products contain the same main ingredient which is hydrogen peroxide or a compound known as carbamide peroxide. Carbamide peroxide can eventually break down to hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide concentration in over the counter whitening products typically varies between 3-15% whereas, professional products go up to as high as 37.5%. Hydrogen peroxide releases oxygen molecules that chemically break down colored structures.
Some teeth whitening products may also use acid stabilizers such as phosphoric acid. Acid stabilizers reduce the need for constant product refrigeration. Research shows that acid stabilizers significantly contribute to teeth sensitivity. Acid stabilizers also decrease the efficient release of whitening byproducts of hydrogen peroxide.
Since whitening products cause teeth sensitivity, some manufacturers also add desensitizing agents to the whitening products. Unfortunately, these desensitizing agents such as fluoride, potassium nitrate and ACP when mixed with the whitening gel, have not proven to decrease sensitivity. However, desensitizers are highly recommended to be used before and/or after treatment separately from the main whitening formulation.
Thus, whitening gels that deliver 100% of their original potency and minimal sensitivity are the ones that are refrigerated and without acidifiers.
There are two main ways in which teeth whiten:
Extrinsic whitening occurs by removing stains on the outside of your tooth. These stains may be caused by coffee, tobacco, tea, or wine. This can be accomplished by whitening toothpastes that use abrasive products on your teeth. Abrasive products roughen the surface of enamel which can attract more staining in the future. Thus, I would not recommend using whitening toothpastes as a quick and cheap solution to your teeth staining. Instead, I would highly recommend getting a professional clean at the dental office. Professional cleans successfully remove any calculus, tar and other extrinsic stains leaving your teeth looking cleaner, and healthier.
Intrinsic whitening occurs by whitening the inside of your teeth using hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide breaks down into free oxygen radicals. These oxygen radicals then attach to double carbon bonds (color stain molecules) and break them down to single carbon bonds. The single carbon bonds reflect light and appear lighter and whiter. This makes your teeth look a few shades whiter as a result.
Please note that polishing off the external stains caused by coffee, wine etc. will leave you with teeth that will only APPEAR whiter. This is because polishing only removes the outer stains and does not alter the color/shade of your teeth. No amount of whitening or charcoal toothpaste, light devices or scrubbing can change the shade of your teeth. The only way to significantly change the shade of your teeth is by using professional hydrogen peroxide products.
Pros and cons of whitening toothpastes:
Whitening toothpastes usually contain a LOW concentrations of a whitening agents such as hydrogen peroxide, charcoal, pentasodium triphosphate, papain, sodium carbonate, sodium chloride or titanium dioxide. Plus, they usually contain a calcium based or a silica based abrasive agent such as calcium carbonate, dicalcium phosphate dihydrate, calcium pyrophosphate, tricalcium phosphate, silica, silicon dioxide or hydrated silica. You should use whitening toothpastes with caution as the abrasive agents may potentially harm your teeth.
Pros: Low cost, easy to use, best for surface stains
Cons: Only removes surface stains. Abrasive agents can cause roughness on your teeth which may attract more staining in the future, sensitivity to your teeth, and gum recession. Only make teeth 1 shade lighter.
Pros and cons of whitening strips:
The product is made up of a disposable plastic strip that contains a hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide as the whitening component in the gel.
Pros: Sold over the counter, low cost, easy to use
Cons: Can produce uneven results since the strip and the gel are not able to get in between the teeth very effectively. This may be exacerbated if you have crooked teeth since the strips are not custom fit. Furthermore, the gel may cause gum irritation and acute pain if you have undiagnosed tooth decay or cavities.
Pros and cons of teeth whitening products at the dental office:
The appointment usually lasts approximately 1 hour. The dentist will protect your lips and your gums before applying a highly concentrated hydrogen peroxide gel (37.5%) to your teeth. The gel will be left on your teeth for about 15 min before being rinsed off and the shade re-evaluated. If the shade is not satisfactory, the gel may need to be re-applied for a longer period of time (depends on the dentist’s decision). A custom tray may be made for you to continue whitening your teeth at home. The combination of professional teeth whitening products and the use of custom tray produces the best and fastest whitening results. Please note that the addition of blue light is not necessary as studies have shown that the light does not enhance or accelerate the whitening effect.
Pros: Extremely effective, can lighten your teeth up to 8 shades whiter, results may last up to 2 years!
Cons: Expensive, may cause temporary teeth sensitivity, pain and gum irritation. The extent of how sensitive your teeth may become cannot be predicted. As a result, your dentist may recommend desensitizing gels (fluoride based gels) to be used before or after the treatment. You can also take Ibuprofen short term to relieve sensitivity.
Pros and cons of custom whitening trays for home use:
Some dentists may offer a custom whitening tray to “top up” the professional dental whitening results that you can use from home. This tray will be designed only for you by taking a print of your teeth. This means that it will fit your teeth perfectly and will be able to hold the whitening gel in place in order to produce excellent whitening results.
Pros: You can maintain whiter teeth for longer from the comfort of your home. Also, you will save more money in the long run.
Cons: You will need to repeat the procedure every 6 months (1h/day for 2 weeks). If you misuse the product or leave it for longer than recommended it may lead to pain or sensitivity.
A few IMPORTANT things to note about teeth whitening
- If you are generally happy with your teeth color but have a couple of teeth discolored due to root canal treatment or trauma then a different whitening procedure may be required for the selected teeth only
- You can get unaesthetic discrepancies in teeth color if you have crowns, veneers, or fillings as they cannot be whitened
- No guarantee for perfectly white teeth
- Whitening doesn’t last forever and you will need touch up at some stage (between 6 and 24 months)
- How white your teeth remain depends on your diet, oral hygiene and any underlying medical conditions
- Whitening teeth that have active decay or a poor restoration can cause excruciating pain
Teeth whitening is not for everyone!
- Don’t do it if you are breastfeeding or pregnant as the chemical agents may potentially have a negative effect on your baby
- Avoid whitening if you are an adolescent with retained baby teeth since you will end up with teeth of different shades when your remaining adult teeth erupt
- Further problems, irritation and pain can occur if you have an active gum disease, poor oral hygiene, history of sensitivity, exposed roots, gum recession, decay or other related issues
What you should do prior to teeth whitening
- Set up an appointment with your dentist for an examination
- Treat any active dental problems to make sure there are no contraindications for teeth whitening products
- Discuss which whitening option is best for you and its side effects even if it is over the counter products
Finally, will whitening damage my teeth?
The answer is YES and this is how it happens→
Hydrogen peroxide reduces the pH on the tooth surface during treatment. The pH can fall as low as 3.5. This acidic environment causes surface demineralization. Demineralization means the loss of calcium and phosphate ions that make up the tooth. Loss of ions causes the tooth to become more porous, brittle, and weaker in structure. Hence, the tooth may be prone to sensitivity after the treatment. You can minimize the damage by using a remineralizing agent after teeth whitening. You can further minimize the damage by whitening your teeth in a controlled environment by a trained dentist. If you choose to whiten teeth at home using custom trays, make sure to follow the recommended instructions otherwise extensive damage to the teeth is almost unavoidable.
Due to the many pros and cons of teeth whitening products, teeth whitening is not for everyone. It would be best to speak to your local dentist about the options that suite your needs the most.
Please click the following links if you would like to learn more about the meaning/use of the ingredients inside your toothpaste and the benefits of dental fluoride on your teeth.