November 24, 2019
For a bright, healthy-looking smile, many consumers turn to teeth whitening. There are so many over-the-counter bleaching products available from strips, paint-ons, trays, and toothpastes. According to the Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), Americans spend over a billion dollars a year on over-the-counter teeth whitening products alone. But before purchasing a teeth whitening kit from off the shelf, you need to understand the risks and side effects of over bleaching teeth.
Brief History of Teeth Whitening
While bleaching strips and whitening toothpaste are an invention of the past few decades, teeth whitening techniques go back centuries. Physicians of the 1100s would recommend scrubbing teeth with a sage or elecampane and salt mixture to make teeth white and clean. Later, some used acid washes to strip stains. Unfortunately, these efforts mostly stripped away the enamel. And even with advancements in dentistry, today many patients still damage their enamel by over cleaning and over bleaching their teeth.
Most teeth change color, often growing darker or more yellow over time. Stains from outside of teeth (extrinsic discoloration) largely stem from highly pigmented foods and beverages, as well as personal habits such as tobacco use. Dentists can treat most extrinsic stains with dental bleaching.
Stains from within the tooth (intrinsic discoloration) can come from a childhood illness, infection, dental trauma, or certain medications (i.e. tetraycline consumption during pregnancy). These types of discoloration do not respond as well to dental bleaching and often require another type of restorative treatment.
What is Over Bleaching?
Most people do not want their teeth to look dirty and unhealthy, so they choose teeth whitening. But some consumers never feel their teeth are white enough. They keep coming back for more and do anything for a whiter smile. Dentists call this type of unhealthy addiction to teeth whitening “bleachorexia.” These consumers often go to extremes, abusing both in-office and over the counter teeth whitening.
The active ingredient in teeth whitening gel is hydrogen peroxide or carbamide peroxide. It diffuses through dental enamel and breaks down chromogenic compounds that cause teeth discoloration. But if overused, the bleaching agent can strip away protective enamel, making teeth sensitive, chalky, brittle, and even more prone to decay. Too much exposure to bleaching agents can also irritate the gums, causing them to recede and exposing the tooth roots. Soft tissues and enamel don’t just grow back. And if teeth suffer severe damage, the dentist often has to resort to other restorative treatments like crowns or veneers.
When is Bleaching a Good Option?
While dental bleaching produces positive results in 90 percent of cases, teeth whitening is not for everyone and cannot lighten all stains. This is why bleaching should be done under the guidance of a dentist. They will have shade guides to help manage expectations and make sure you get safe teeth whitening treatments for your needs. Treatment options could include in-office treatment and at-home treatment from your dentist.
In-office teeth whitening is beneficial because dentists safely apply a higher concentration of the bleaching agent with the application of a special ultraviolet light to speed the process. Not only is treatment quicker, but results last longer than those of at-home treatments. This is also a good option if you have abfraction lesions or receding gums because the dentists can apply a protective shield to keep bleach away from the soft tissues.
Dentists can also make custom-fit trays for at-home teeth whitening. The concentration of the bleaching agent is lower and the full process could take a few weeks. With these products, it is important to follow directions and only wear the trays as recommended by the dentist. Otherwise, you could be at risk of over bleaching your teeth.