Does whitening your teeth damage them?

Fact: A glass of orange or lemon juice is worse for your teeth than teeth whitening. These highly acidic drinks can, over time, soften and erode the thin protective layer of enamel that covers your teeth. They can also irritate the gums.

But you’re not wondering about natural causes of enamel erosion, you’re concerned about teeth whitening… and the answer is ‘No’. Teeth whitening is safe to use.

Teeth whitening is achieved by applying a whitening agent to the surface of the tooth. The most commonly used whitening agent is Hydrogen Peroxide. In the past, this agent was used by dentists in mouthwashes to treat gum disease and they noticed over time that it also whitened teeth.

These days Hydrogen Peroxide is used in a range of different teeth whitening procedures.

Australia highly regulates the use of hydrogen peroxide in teeth whitening. At-home procedures can only legally include 6% hydrogen peroxide, but dentists during in-chair procedures are allowed to use up to 35%.

When hydrogen peroxide is used at this high percentage level, it can permeate deep into the enamel structure and cause softening, making it easier for the enamel to erode away.

It is recommended to stay clear of highly acidic drinks, such as lemon and orange juice, after teeth whitening as your teeth will be more susceptible to enamel erosion.

While hydrogen peroxide is the active ingredient in most whitening products, some teeth-whitening gels contain carbamide peroxide or sodium perborate. The legally safe limit of carbamide peroxide in Australia is 18%.

Both of these agents break down to release hydrogen peroxide.

What are the risks of teeth whitening?

At-home teeth whitening can be done very safely with minimal complications.

It's important hydrogen peroxide isn't left in contact with gums for a long time as this can cause burns. Using a pen applicator which allows you to apply the whitening agent directly onto your teeth, is a great way to avoid your gums and make sure the gel is placed in the right areas.

Repeated tooth whitening in quick succession, and leaving the whitening agent on for too long can cause permanent damage to the teeth. It is recommended to always read and follow the instructions of the teeth whitening kit.

What are the side effects of teeth whitening?

A side-effect of teeth whitening is temporary sensitivity. Typically the higher concentrate of peroxide in the whitening gel, the more sensitivity will occur. This is usually not permanent, and you can look after your teeth by using toothpaste for sensitive teeth.

No tooth whitening method should be done too often or for longer than the instructions say. This is because if left on or repeated too soon the acid in the whitening agent can damage the tooth enamel which can lead to sensitivity and other future problems. Prevent damage by closely following the instructions.

Who should NOT use LED teeth whitening?

If you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant or nursing a baby, it is best to delay whitening your teeth. There has been little research into teeth whitening during pregnancy to assess the safety. Therefore, the best option is to wait until you have had your baby and finished breastfeeding.

Teeth whitening should not be used on children’s teeth. Instead consult your dentist if you are worried about the colour of your child’s teeth.

Teeth whitening will not work on restorative dentistry, for example, crowns, veneers and bridges. These materials will not whiten and so using whitening products on teeth around these materials will cause uneven colour throughout the mouth.

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