Are whiter teeth on your list of new year’s beauty and wellness goals? A bright, white smile can boost confidence and make us feel healthier and more comfortable. But is teeth whitening safe? Should you take chance on an over the counter product or spend more to get a professional treatment from your dentist? Here’s a quick breakdown to help you decide which approach is best for you.
What Are My Choices for Teeth Whitening?
There are many choices when it comes to teeth whitening, from a $5 tube of toothpaste to a super effective treatment in your dentist’s chair. Professional treatments and American Dental Association-approved drugstore products are safe when used as directed, but they range widely in effectiveness and cost. Let’s look at some of the most popular choices:
- Whitening Toothpaste: most whitening toothpastes contain small amounts of hydrogen peroxide along with abrasives to whiten your teeth at the surface level. They won’t make your teeth dramatically whiter right away like an in-office treatment, and they usually can’t get to deeper stains. But a high-quality whitening toothpaste is a good, low-cost approach if you don’t need dramatic results. Be sure to look for the ADA seal of acceptance.
- Drugstore Whitening Strips: Over the counter whitening strips use higher concentrations of peroxide than toothpaste, with a slightly higher price tag. They’re more effective than toothpaste but can still take several weeks to a month to do the trick. Drugstore whitening strips are safe when used as directed, but they can cause gum irritation if not applied correctly and can cause pain if the bleaching agent gets into areas with tooth decay. They can also cause white spots on the teeth if used incorrectly. Here are a few tips for using DIY whitening strips safely:
- Make sure you choose whitening strips that are approved by the American Dental Association and follow all directions closely.
- Don’t leave bleach strips on too long.
- Don’t swallow any bleaching agent–this can irritate your throat and cause nausea.
Prescription take-home and in-office treatments from your dentist use much stronger bleaching agents, including carbamide peroxide and concentrated hydrogen peroxide for faster and longer-lasting results. Your dentist has two options for teeth whitening: treating you in the office or sending you home with customized trays for in-home treatment. Some clients opt for the quick results of an in-office cleaning followed up by take-home treatments.
- Professional Take-Home Treatments: These are a great happy medium in terms of cost and effectiveness. Your dentist orders custom-fitted trays using a mold of your teeth. You add a bleaching gel and wear it as directed (usually around an hour) each night for two or three weeks. Take-home professional treatments usually use carbamide peroxide with a concentration of 10 to 20 percent. These custom-designed treatments are safe, but be sure to follow your dentist’s directions to avoid gum inflammation. They offer much more dramatic results than over the counter products in just two weeks. Results are also long-lasting and can keep teeth white for a year or even two if you keep up with cleaning and avoid staining food and drinks.
- In-Office Whitening: If you want safe, effective treatment without waiting, professional whitening in your dentist’s office is the way to go. Your dentist can safely use high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide (from 15 to 35 percent) along with a high-intensity light to speed up the bleaching process. The concentrated professional-use solution can burn your gums, so your dentist uses a protective barrier to protect the soft tissue in your mouth. It’s very safe when done by a qualified professional and less likely to spill or leak than an at-home treatment. Results usually last for a year or more if you’re careful about avoiding stains.
So, the bottom line is that all approved whitening treatments are safe for most patients if used correctly. Professional treatments are pricier but the results are much more dramatic, with teeth becoming four to six times whiter with just one treatment. One study cited by the ADA found that an over the counter bleaching technique took 16 days to achieve the whitening level of a seven-day at-home tray system and a one-day in-office procedure. In-office whitening also allows for safety measures and supervision that DIY products can’t offer.
Are There Any Concerns About Teeth Whitening?
In most cases, whitening treatments aren’t advised for patients with decay, gum disease, crowns or braces. That’s why it’s a good idea to talk with your dentist about your whitening plans, even if you’re considering an over the counter approach. Your dentist will check your gums before treatment and help you determine whether it’s safe, appropriate and effective.
Research also shows that both professional and drugstore whitening products can lead to greater tooth sensitivity. According to the Mayo Clinic, many suppliers counteract this by adding components like potassium nitrate and fluoride to reduce sensitivity and strengthen enamel.
The final big concern is gum inflammation, but that issue is easy to avoid with protective barriers, properly fitting trays and following DIY directions carefully.
Is It Safe to Whiten My Teeth Myself or Should I See My Dentist?
ADA-approved over the counter whitening products are very safe if used correctly, but they don’t provide the quick and long-lasting results many clients are looking for. If you want maximum safety and effectiveness with dramatic and gorgeous results, professional treatment is the way to go. Treatment in your dentist’s office also lets you avoid cosmetic mistakes like unwanted white spots or hurting your gums or enamel if you make a mistake.
At Greenhill Family Dental, we offer both in-office treatment and customized take-home trays for our patients, and our team has the experience to ensure that everything goes smoothly and safely while we achieve the results you’re looking for. There’s nothing like that first delighted, confident smile after a whitening treatment, and we can’t wait to see yours.