Top 9 Teeth Whitening Myths Busted and Common Questions Answered
Myth 1 – Teeth Whitening ruins your tooth enamel
Not generally true! Professional Teeth Whitening product suppliers mostly use Hydrogen Peroxide or Carbamide Peroxide as the active ingredients in their tooth whitener gels. The chemical Hydrogen Peroxide (HO) is a bleaching agent which converts into water (HO) and releases an Oxygen molecule (O) in the process of the chemical reaction. Both Water and Oxygen are common, safe components of our everyday lives.
The Oxygen particles penetrate the rough surface of your tooth (even though they appear smooth, they are microscopically rough, rod like crystal structures) and dislodge staining particles. I like to explain this by imagining the TV commercials which show how a clothes washing powder with oxygen lifts stains from your clothing.
The “bleach” Hydrogen Peroxide is not the same as household bleach containing ammonia, or other low-end, acid based tooth whitening products, and can be swallowed, within limits. In fact our own bodies produce Hydrogen Peroxide naturally!
Acidic products can remove enamel from your teeth. Look for teeth whitening products using Hydrogen Peroxide which is pH balanced, meaning they have no, or low acidity levels. Putting acidity into perspective, you should be aware that everyday Orange Juice is shown in lab studies to soften (and potentially erode) tooth enamel by many times more than a professional hydrogen peroxide based tooth whitening gel could, if used correctly.
Myth 2 – Teeth Whitening is not Safe
Not true! Cosmetic Teeth Bleaching with Hydrogen Peroxide has been in use for 100 years. Most recognized dental bodies worldwide endorse tooth bleaching as a generally safe practice, when simple safety steps are followed. Any professional supplier of teeth whitening products will include adequate instructions for the safe use of their product.
Safety vs Risk with tooth whitening is generally centred on 2 main issues: Exposure of the gel to the gums and soft tissue of the mouth or lips, and tooth sensitivity. Both can be minimized by using professional products and minimizing the amount of time the bleaching gel is exposed to the gums or teeth.
As with any cosmetic procedure, there are potential risks. Thankfully with professional teeth whitening any side effects experienced are temporary and are not permanent. As with most cosmetic procedures, you may have to endure some discomfort to look better. Sometimes I call this “Vain Pain”.
Myth 3 – All whitening Gel is the same
Not true! Of the two major professional gel options, there is Carbamide Peroxide and Hydrogen Peroxide. Both produce the same active ingredient Hydrogen Peroxide, but Carbamide Peroxide acts SLOWER on the teeth and is recommended for use only with an Accelerator Light (I will talk about that later) or for overnight use. Carbamide Peroxide concentrations contains roughly 1/3 of the active ingredient, Hydrogen Peroxide. As an example, 35% Carbamide Peroxide is roughly equal to 12% Hydrogen Peroxide.
Because Hydrogen Peroxide is an unstable chemical which reacts immediately, it is more expensive to produce. Many vendors offer only Carbamide Peroxide based products as a result. Stabilized Hydrogen Peroxide, while the most difficult and expensive to produce, reacts immediately on contact with the teeth and is best suited for short duration tooth whitening treatments without an accelerator light.
Myth 4 – Teeth Whitening Accelerator Lights don’t work
Not generally true! Except in some cases. There are businesses who sell only take home teeth whitening kits, and some Dentists, who say that the LED Lights and other accelerator lights are just a gimmick and don’t work.
There have been many studies conducted which show that the use of a professional accelerator light does indeed accelerate the oxidization (the release of oxygen and chemical bleaching reaction) of tooth whitener gel. This is especially true with Carbamide Peroxide based whitening gels which react much slower chemically.
Ask yourself, how many Dentists and Cosmetic Dentistry businesses offer an “in-office”, “chairside”, “instant whitening” or “Power Whitening” treatment? Many of them! Now why would they offer this treatment if the accelerator lights did not work? From my own professional experience, there is no doubt that the professional quality Blue LED Accelerator lights enable a faster tooth whitening result when using Carbamide Peroxide gel. In our own studies and observations having worked with thousands of clients and compared the results with the same gel, over the same time period, with and without the LED Accelerator Lamp, we are sure there is a noticeable improvement with the light under these conditions.
But, not all Accelerator Lights are the same. Some Dentists use older technology lamps such as Plasma, UV and other technologies. These technologies function at a light spectrum which is known to cause heating or burning of the skin tissue and heating of the tooth surface to release the oxygen in the gel, unfortunately that can also mean UV damage to your mouth, gums and lips. There are also mini handheld LED Lights you often see in TV Commercials – these are only toys and do not have enough power to have any effect.
Another case of where an accelerator light doesn’t work well is if the provider uses a mouth tray to hold the gel against the teeth, and this tray is coloured, is a “Silicone Impression” tray, or is a Pre-Filled Foam tray. These types of mouthguard trays do not allow the light frequency to pass through them and there are no accelerated bleaching effects as a result.
Modern, professional teeth whitening accelerator lamps all use LED light in the blue light spectrum, at a specific frequency which excites the oxygen release from the chemical, and accelerates the tooth whitening process. They are often known as “Cool LED” or “cold” light accelerators because they do not heat the teeth or surrounding tissue. As a result, they are perfectly safe, and the technology is FDA Apparoved.
Myth 5 – You need to go to a Dentist to get professional whitening results
Not true! Today, you can buy in Australia, professional strength tooth whitening products which you can use at home or as a service with a professional accelerator light and assistance – and not just from the Dentist.
Dentists are exclusively allowed to use the VERY STRONG bleaching gels, over 16% Hydrogen Peroxide, and up to 35% Hydrogen Peroxide. At these strengths of whitening gel, the real risks are tooth sensitivity and gum trauma. Dentists therefore use a special gum barrier which they apply to your gums prior to applying the strong gels. A Dentist will usually get a better whitening result in the same amount of time as a non-dental treatment, but there are costs to consider, both financially and in increased tooth sensitivity when using the stronger Dentist-only treatments.
For many years the Dentist’s had the cosmetic teeth whitening market monopolized because professional teeth whitening technology was too expensive for anyone else. Today, the price and availability of professional tooth whitening products means you have many more choices and options.
Myth 6 – Teeth Bleaching Gels from anywhere other than USA, Australia or UK are unsafe
Not true! First of all, in this modern world, you may not even know it but products appearing to be manufactured by a good American or Australian brand are most likely actually manufactured in China. This is true with all types of products and technology worldwide, due to simple economics.
There are many brands of teeth whitening products available in the market. You don’t need to be concerned where they were manufactured, because it makes NO DIFFERENCE. The active chemical, Hydrogen Peroxide is the same the world over. Because Hydrogen Peroxide is also used as a disinfectant, bacteria can’t live in this chemical and it will always be safe (ie; germ and bacteria free) to put Hydrogen Peroxide based gel into your mouth regardless of where it came from or how it was manufactured.
If the Hydrogen Peroxide gel is past its use by date or chemically expired, you will know right away, because the gel turns a milky white colour which shows that it is already oxidized and will no longer be effective at whitening your teeth, it won’t cause any harm.
Myth 7 – You need customized Mouthguard trays to get best whitening results
Not true! While Dentists offer custom mouth trays which costs a lot of money, there are also many home whitening kits providing the boil-n-bite thermoshrinking mouthguards which will work equally as well. The totally custom trays may be a little more comfortable to wear, but they need to be, because in general, a Dentist’s at-home teeth whitening kits require you to have the tray in your mouth for long periods of time, over weeks of use. There are non-dentist products which only require short time duration usage, so it doesn’t matter as much if the mouthguard is less comfortable.
The other problem with mouthguards which are too form-fitted is that the gap between the teeth and the surface of the mouthguard is so small, that only the thinnest layer of whitening gel can fit between. The problem with this is less chemical = less whitening result, so you need to use the mouthguard and gel more frequently, over longer periods of time to get a good result.
Myth 8 – All teeth are the same and whitening results should be like the “Hollywood” smile
Unfortunately, some people have unrealistic expectations and can be disappointed with their teeth whitening results. This is not because professional teeth whitening products don’t work, because they ALWAYS WORK to some degree. It’s because they fail to understand that each person’s teeth are unique in mineral composition, which means that tooth bleaching will produce a different result for each person. If your teeth are genetically more yellow than someone else, your results will not be as white, no matter who’s product you use, how many times you try to whiten your teeth, or what the strength of the gel is. And some people have deep staining from antibiotics, tetracycline etc. which can’t be easily removed and may never be fully removed. Also, there are people with genetically grey or blue tinted teeth for which Hydrogen Peroxide bleaching does not work as well as yellow or brown colour tints.
People see the Hollywood Stars on TV and in Movies and believe they can get their teeth bleached to look like the movie stars. Unfortunately, that is not possible. Chemical Teeth Whitening has its limits of effectiveness and will not produce the pure white colour (for most people) you see on Movie Stars. Does that mean that movie stars are just genetically lucky? No, it means that movie stars have often paid many thousands of dollars for Porcelain Veneers to straighten their teeth and make them pure white. Of course you have this option too, if you have the money, but a tooth whitening with Hydrogen Peroxide generally makes a noticeable difference in whiteness and brightness of natural teeth, at a much lower cost than Veneers.
Myth 9 – If I have Caps, Crowns, Veneers or Dentures so I can’t whiten my teeth
Not true! While Hydrogen Peroxide only whitens natural teeth, it also cleans all surfaces, including man-made surfaces of caps, crowns, veneers and dentures. Some dentists say that hydrogen peroxide can weaken the bond of some of these artificial substances, or attack the metal components, but you should check with your Dentist about your specific case before whitening your natural teeth if you are concerned.
It is always better to whiten your natural teeth FIRST if you are going to be getting any caps, crowns etc. fitted. This is because the dentist can then match the colour of the artificial substance to your now whiter, natural teeth, giving an overall whiter smile.
Common Questions and Answers about Teeth Whitening:
Does Whitening Toothpaste work?
The problem here is that there is not a strong enough concentration of any chemical, and it is not concentrated on your teeth long enough to make ANY noticeable difference to the whiteness of your teeth. The only real “whiteness” if you can call it that, which is created by toothpaste is actually the abrasive action of the toothbrush or paste against your tooth enamel. This scratching DOES wear down tooth enamel and also removes large chunks of staining material on the tooth surface, but not the tiny staining particles which make teeth look more yellow. This is the same thing with “Tooth Polishes” which only act like a fine sandpaper to remove tooth enamel while brushing and will cause increased tooth sensitivity with prolonged use tooth enamel thins.
As with the Risk vs Reward argument, while there is significant damage caused to tooth enamel from tooth brushing over time, on balance this is better than the consequences of not cleaning your teeth.
Don’t be fooled by those expensive “whitening toothpastes” – they do not make a noticeable difference to the whiteness of your teeth, they are abrasively removing enamel from your teeth and you’re better off spending your money on something that does work.
Who is suitable for Teeth Whitening?
The generally recommended rules to define people who are suitable for teeth whitening are:
- Over 16 years of age (due to potential development of the teeth prior to this age, parental consent may be required)
- Not Pregnant or Lactating (this is an additional safety measure to protect babies, although you would not generally be able to swallow enough Hydrogen Peroxide from a normal teeth whitening treatment to harm your baby)
- No known allergies to Hydrogen Peroxide. If you have ever developed skin irritation when bleaching your hair with Hydrogen Peroxide, you may be allergic. But if you don’t know you’re allergic, it will become evident in the first few minutes of a teeth whitening treatment, and you can simply stop the treatment. Any side effects, no matter how discomforting will disappear in a few days with no permanent damage.
Aside from these conditions, teeth whitening is not advisable for people with Dental Braces, people with gum disease, open cavities, leaking fillings, recent oral surgery, or other dental conditions. If in doubt, I recommend you visit your Dentist prior to using a professional strength teeth whitening product.
People with grey or blue tint colour to their natural teeth may also not benefit as greatly from teeth whitening using Hydrogen Peroxide, as people with yellow or brown tint colour.
If you have Gingivitis or Periodontal disease, any Hydrogen Peroxide bleach on your gum line will be painful and may produce a small amount of bleeding at the gum line. As a result, I don’t recommend whitening your teeth until these issues are under control with your Dentist. What is interesting however, is that reports have shown that Hydrogen Peroxide can kill the bacteria which causes Gingivitis, possibly preventing further damage.
What are the Risks with Teeth Whitening?
Whitening treatments are generally safe, however, some of the potential complications of these treatments include:
GUM IRRITATION: Whitening gel that comes in contact with gum tissue during the treatment may cause inflammation and/or blanching or whitening of the gums, gum line or inside lips. This is due to inadvertent exposure of small areas of those tissues to the whitening gel. The inflammation and/or whitening of gums is transient, meaning it does not last, and any colour change of the gum tissue will reverse within two hours, usually within 10-30 minutes. Persons with a history of mouth ulcers may develop temporary mouth ulcers which usually disappear within a few days after treatment.
TOOTH SENSITIVITY: Although more common with the in-Office Dentist Treatments using very strong bleaching gels, some people can experience some tooth sensitivity for a period after the whitening treatment. People with existing sensitivity, recently cracked teeth, micro-cracks, open cavities, leaking fillings, or other dental conditions that cause sensitivity may find that those conditions increase or prolong tooth sensitivity after a cosmetic teeth whitening treatment.
SPOTS OR STREAKS: Some people may develop white spots or streaks on their teeth due to calcium deposits that naturally occur in teeth. These usually diminish within 24 hours.
RELAPSE: After a cosmetic teeth whitening treatment, it is natural for teeth colour to regress somewhat over time. This is natural and should be very gradual, but it can be accelerated by exposing your teeth to various staining agents, such as coffee, tea, tobacco, red wine, etc. You should not eat or drink anything except water during the first 60 minutes after a teeth whitening treatment, and avoid tooth staining agents for 24 hours after (eat and drink white or clear coloured foods during this time).The results of a Hydrogen Peroxide based tooth bleaching treatment are not intended to be permanent, and can last up to 2 years when using professional strength treatments. Secondary, repeat, or touch-up treatments may be needed to achieve or maintain the colour you desire for your teeth.
How do I achieve best teeth whitening results?
Before answering this question, you should be thinking of the tooth whitening results from a single treatment, as a trade-off against the potential side-effects of a single treatment. The best answer is balance! Balance the potential results with the potential risk of side-effects. The highest concentrations of Hydrogen Peroxide produce the best results in the shortest time, but also have the highest potential side-effects. My recommendation is middle of the road – not the strongest, and not the weakest to get a happy balance of results and risk.
Before you undertake a professional teeth whitening treatment, have your teeth cleaned professionally. At least in the smile area, which is the upper and lower 8-10 front teeth. REMEMBER, teeth are opaque so cleaning the BACK of the teeth is very important to the overall whitening results you will achieve. A Dental Cleaning will remove any excess materials stuck to the outside of your teeth and permit the Hydrogen Peroxide to work best at bleaching your natural teeth, evenly.
Use a professional strength teeth whitening gel. Many Pharmacies, TV Ads and Internet companies promote teeth whitening products which use 3% or 6% Hydrogen Peroxide concentration. These just don’t work well at whitening teeth, and any effect they have takes a LONG time to achieve. The comparative cost difference is not that great between these low-end products and products of professional strength, but the time and effort required is. I recommend 12% Hydrogen Peroxide if available in your area, unless you are using a whitening treatment with a professional accelerator light which can use 35% Carbamide Peroxide. Of course the Dentist in-Office power whitening treatments generally use gel much stronger than 12%, but beware of the potential side effects.
Remember, if your teeth aren’t as white as you would like after the first treatment, you can always allow some time to monitor your gums and teeth for any side-effects, then take an additional treatment(s). Provided the product you are using is not too expensive, this is the best and safest way to achieve optimal teeth whitening results.
How long does Teeth Whitening last?
This depends on the product you use to whiten your teeth, and the lifestyle you lead.
If you are a smoker, or regularly drink red wine or use any other heavily coloured substances regularly, your whiter teeth will become stained again more quickly.
There is no absolute answer to this question, but in general, if you use a professional teeth whitening product for the full treatment as recommended, you may be able to keep the whiter teeth for up to 2 years if you are conscious of what you eat and drink, and maintain your teeth and oral health properly.
Most people are not saints and lead lives where they enjoy red wine or a curry etc. That’s fine, but if you want to keep your whiter teeth you should brush them 60 minutes after you have consumed the food or drink. Research suggests you should not brush immediately after eating because the acid formed in your mouth when eating makes the tooth enamel softer and abrasive brushing of the teeth during this period can be detrimental.
I also recommend the use of Teeth Whitening Pens. They apply a thin layer of Hydrogen Peroxide to the teeth, at any time or place, and will bleach any staining close to the tooth surface (if the concentration is strong enough). Whitening Pens active ingredient only works for 30 to 60 seconds on the teeth because saliva washes it away, so choose a Whitening Pen which uses Hydrogen Peroxide (not Carbamide) and is professional strength gel. Whitening Pens are generally not suitable for removing deeper stains.
I have tooth sensitivity problems, can I still whiten my teeth?
Yes, and you have several options. You could use a desensitizing tooth paste for approximately 1 month prior to whitening your teeth and if sensitivity is reduced, you can use any product. But be aware that your sensitivity will likely increase again during or after the treatment, so I suggest choosing a mid strength whitening gel where you can remove it quickly if discomfort gets unbearable.
The other option is a low strength whitening gel. This will work over a longer period of time, but sometimes also increases sensitivity because of the amount of time required on the teeth to get a good result.
Probably the best option, in my opinion, is a Teeth Whitening Pen of at least 12% Hydrogen Peroxide concentration. Because you can paint the gel onto specific teeth and because the gel is washed away by saliva in less than a minute, this may produce the best results, with the least discomfort.
What should I do immediately after I whiten my teeth?
- Rinse the gel from your teeth and mouth without swallowing.
- Brush your teeth within 60 minutes using a tooth paste containing Fluoride to help seal the teeth
- Don’t eat or drink colored foods, or smoke for at least 60 minutes
- If you have tooth sensitivity, use a desensitizing tooth paste
- If you have tingling in your gums, purchase from the Pharmacy a preparation designed to soothe gums. This will help to prevent mouth ulcers forming (if you are predisposed) and decrease the discomfort and duration of any potential gum irritation.
The simple rule to the best Teeth Whitening results
Concentration of Hydrogen Peroxide (Strength) + Time on the teeth (Time) = Results (Effectiveness)
When factoring in Time, you should also consider the consequences of time:
- More effort, meaning you may not complete the full treatment
- More inconvenience
- Enough active ingredient to chemically react over that time period. That is to say, just leaving any whitening gel on your teeth for 24 consecutive hours won’t help because the Hydrogen Peroxide normally is fully reacted and spent within 20 minutes.
- Longer exposure of the mouthguard to the gums. Friction of the mouthguard can often cause gum irritation
- Longer exposure of the bleaching gel to the gums. Once again, the risk of gum irritation.
- Remember, there are limits to the whiteness achievable with natural teeth and these will vary with your tooth genetics, your lifestyle and the state of your teeth at the time of whitening.
More information and Teeth Whitening Product Reviews available by downloading the full report.