Dental Care

Teeth whitening side effects

What you should know about teeth whitening side effects

Whitening the teeth is a cosmetic procedure that has become extremely popular.  After all, who wouldn't want to have bright, pearly white teeth?

Society typically puts a great deal of value on physical appearance, and it's difficult to make a favorable first impression when your teeth are yellowed or discolored.
Several things can cause stained or yellowed teeth, including certain foods and beverages.  Fortunately, several methods are now available to whiten the teeth.  Some of these procedures are performed by a dental professional, while others are done without professional assistance in the home.

You'll have several options to choose from if you decide to restore your teeth's original white luster.  Many dentists offer professional teeth whitening services, but they can be expensive and several sessions might be required.  On the other hand, an assortment of less expensive over-the-counter (OTC) pastes, gels, whitening strips and tray-based tooth whitening products are available for use in the home.  However, the mechanism used by OTC and professionally applied teeth whitening methods is similar, and both can cause tooth sensitivity and gum irritation in about half the population.

How Teeth Whiteners Work

No matter which method you choose, teeth whitening is a chemical bleaching process.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with how teeth whiteners work and why you can have teeth whitening side effects, a bit of background information might be helpful.

The outermost layer of a tooth is formed by enamel, which is the hardest tissue in the body.  A layer of dentin is immediately beneath the enamel, near the nerves and blood vessels which nourish the teeth.  Teeth appear white because the dentin reflects light passing through the enamel.

Typically, discoloration or staining exists on the surface of the enamel.  A variety of foods and beverages, including coffee, tea, red wine, beets, colas, cranberry juice and blueberries, can discolor your teeth by staining the surface of the enamel.  Staining substances are absorbed into the enamel's surface layer, but brushing usually removes them, at least for a while.  As time passes, however, these substances diffuse into deeper portions of the enamel.  Once this occurs, removing the stains by brushing alone is no longer possible.  This is when most people consider teeth whitening procedures.

Teeth Whitening Side Effects

Over-the-counter whitening gels designed to be used in the home contain oxidizing agents to bleach stains located on or beneath the surface of the enamel.  These gels are typically peroxide-based and operate by breaking down into oxygen and water.  The oxygen then enters the teeth's enamel and bleaches discolored areas through a chemical reaction.  Hydrogen peroxide, one common ingredient of teeth whitening products, is said to enter the enamel within fifteen minutes after application.  Other OTC teeth whitening products utilize carbamide peroxide as the active ingredient, but it operates in a similar way.

The peroxide in OTC teeth whitening gels can make your teeth and gums sensitive and painful.  Fortunately, these symptoms typically subside after just a few days.  If they persist longer, stop using the product and consult your dentist, because peroxide might have seeped into your enamel and come into contact with a nerve.
Teeth whitening procedures conducted at the dentist's office utilize gels or solutions which contain concentrations of up to 35% hydrogen peroxide.  These products are much more powerful than OTC products, which incorporate a maximum of 10% of the active ingredient.  Because professional teeth whitening products are so powerful, they work very quickly but are also more likely to cause tooth and gum sensitivity than their OTC counterparts.  If you choose this method for teeth whitening, your dentist may require you to return for one or more follow-up visits.

For those who already have sensitive teeth, the lower potency of OTC whiteners might offer advantages, as the likelihood of sensitivity and pain is lower.  De-sensitizing toothpastes can help if these side effects become a problem. 
Bear in mind that because they tend to diminish the whitening effect, standard mouthwashes such as Scope or Listerine should not be used after the application of any OTC teeth whitening gel.  On the other hand, oxygenating mouthwashes such as Orajel or Therabreath can actually assist OTC teeth whitening systems.  As with any oral product, read the product label and consult your dentist if you have any questions.

Another thing to be aware of with regards to teeth whitening side effects is the possibility of "tooth rebound," where chemically whitened teeth return to their previous color (and sometimes even darker) at some point after the whitening.  Some experts believe tooth rebound is less drastic when OTC whitening gels are used than it is with whitening treatments performed at the dentist's office.  Tooth rebound is unpredictable and varies from person to person, but it is a factor to consider before deciding to have your teeth whitened.

If you do decide to go forward with teeth whitening, you have several options.  Just be aware of the potential teeth whitening side effects.

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