Are At-Home Teeth Whitening Systems Safe?

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Tony Clemente, Senior Staff Writer

Tony Clemente has been writing for newspapers, magazines, websites, and other publications for over 20 years, covering subjects as diverse as lifestyle trends in the Southwest, health and wellness tips for Medicare recipients, and world-class quality improvement processes for major corporations. In addition to spending time under the knife during two major and five minor surgeries, Mr. Clemente has written extensively about cosmetic surgery procedures, including cosmetic dentistry, hair restoration, and bariatric weight-loss surgery. He has a BA in history from Williams College.


November 07 2007

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The Safety of At-Home Teeth Whitening Products

At-home teeth whitening products are being purchased almost as quickly as stores can stock them these days, and anything that can be bought over the counter has to be safe to use, right?

You don't have to be a cynic to know that the correct answer to that question is "wrong."  Especially in the world of health and beauty aids, where even a beneficial and relatively benign product like aspirin can have very risky side effects if used improperly, there is no such thing as a 100%-safe product.

And make no mistake: At-home teeth whitening kits rely heavily, if not exclusively, on chemicals to remove teeth stains and bring a sparkle to users' smiles. The most common chemical used is carbamide peroxide, an oxidizing agent whose active ingredient is hydrogen peroxide. At-home teeth whitening products contain a 10% solution of carbamide peroxide, far less than the 35% solution typically used in professional teeth whitening but still large enough to carry significant risks if used improperly. (Peroxide can cause an allergic reaction, of course, so allergy sufferers need to pay strict attention to the labels.)

At home teeth whitening products risks and side effects

  • One of the major side effects of at-home teeth whitening products is heightened sensitivity in the teeth, particularly sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures, brought on by the peroxide solution. This increased sensitivity can make warm foods and drinks appear almost scaldingly hot; cooler dishes and beverages, on the other hand, can feel as though they're freezing.
  • Although this sensitivity usually subsides within a few days, it can make the common, everyday practice of dining very uncomfortable while it lasts. In fact, "very uncomfortable" might be a bit of an understatement; some users of at-home teeth whitening kits report pains along the lines of "shooting," "stabbing," and even "knee-buckling."
  • Another unfortunate side effect of these systems can be gum irritation. This is commonly caused by the teeth whitening gel and tray application, particularly when users wear the tray overnight. The constant rubbing, combined with a long dose of the 10% carbamide peroxide solution, can result in inflamed gums.
  • Cosmetically, teeth whitening at home risks include overbleaching, which can discolor the teeth and result in a spotted, blotchy look.This is typically caused by overuse of the product, which often results from failing to read — and strictly follow — the directions on the label.

To avoid the risks of at-home teeth whitening products, many people choose professional teeth whitening from a dentist. These supervised treatments offer greater reliability, the input and oversight of trained, experienced professionals, and a greater range of treatments and materials to help ensure a positive result — and with it, a brighter, more attractive smile.